When John Thies took over as president of the Illinois State Bar Association earlier this year, he knew he wanted to find a philanthropic cause to support during his one-year term.
And then “out of the blue,” Thies said, he got a phone call from the director of a local food bank who expressed an interest in teaming up with the statewide bar group to help feed the hungry.
“I could have been knocked over by a feather,” the Urbana attorney said of the timing of the call.
So, Thies teamed up with Feeding Illinois, an association of eight food banks that serve the state, to create “Lawyers Feeding Illinois,” a food and fundraising campaign he hopes will provide 1 million meals to those in need.
The campaign will run from Feb. 18 to March 1, during which time teams of lawyers, law students and other members of the state’s legal community will compete to earn points by collecting food and donations.
“Lawyers and judges are some of the most philanthropic people I know,” he said, quickly adding that he is confident the campaign’s goal will be reached.
Thies announced the launch of the campaign last week at an event in Chicago, where he was joined by his wife, Terry, the campaign’s chairwoman; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; Peter Birnbaum, president and CEO of Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund (ATG); and Peter Schaefer, director of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, among others.
ATG, he said, gave the campaign a gift to cover up to $200,000 of the administrative costs associated with the campaign’s online platforms.
He also said the ISBA’s Young Lawyers Division has been very active in the campaign and hopes it can sustain the fundraising campaign in future years.
Reaching out to Madigan for her office’s participation in the campaign was “a no-brainer,” Thies said.
Lawyers, Madigan said, have an obligation to help others and that “Lawyers Feeding Illinois” provides an “opportunity to put our time and talents to good use beyond the courtroom.”
Madigan also stressed the importance of the cause. Hunger, she said, continues to grow as a problem facing residents throughout the state.
She said food banks have experienced a 61 percent increase in distribution in the past few years and more than 800,000 children in Illinois qualified for free or reduced school lunches last year alone.
As someone familiar with the work of food banks, Schaefer said one in five children do not receive regular meals, a statistic he said should concern everyone.
He also said that the recession has increased the need for donations, noting that Feeding Illinois’ eight food banks handed out 120 million pounds of food to families last year.
Terry Thies said the campaign’s steering committee has worked to make the fundraising drive easy for everyone to participate in.
Between Feb. 18 and March 1, teams will receive one point for every pound of food donated and five points for every dollar donated. All of the donations will go to support each team’s local food bank.
Terry Thies said not only will the campaign help feed the hungry, but it also gives the legal community the chance to participate in a fun competition.
Teams that raise the most points overall and per capita in several different categories will receive awards at the end of the campaign, she said.
Saying that $20 can pay for 100 meals, Terry Thies said “even giving a little bit can make a huge difference.”
As of last week, Thies said 18 teams had already signed up to participate.
He also said the ISBA decided to launch its campaign after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays because that’s when food banks need the most help.
Shira D. Truitt of The Truitt Law Firm in Belleville appears to be the only local attorney on the campaign's steering committee. She did not immediately return a phone call.
For more information on the ISBA campaign, go to lawyersfeedingil.org.