It was an early morning for Mahomet Police Officer Dave Parsons and Chaplain Lutz Braunig. As members of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, Illini Lodge 17, the duo met up at 4 a.m. on Monday to join other officers as they packed boxes of Christmas food for needy families in the Champaign County and Paxton area.
The Food Basket Program began in the 1970s when police officers decided to provide food and assistance for families and the elderly in the Champaign-Urbana area. Fifty families received food the first year, and in 2014 over 500 families received food boxes.
This year, Parsons and Braunig filled a trailer with approximately 80 boxes, which included a ham, fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, canned goods and cookies. The men then distributed the boxes to volunteers or delivered them to homes in the Mahomet and Seymour area throughout the day.
Officers in Champaign County receive Food Basket referrals from Family Services, Public Health, Crisis Nursery, Healthy Start and several churches, but the Mahomet Police Department gathers lists from Mahomet Helping Hands and the Mahomet-Seymour School District.
Braunig said the experience gets better and better every year. Two years ago he and Parsons visited an apartment complex in Mahomet to distribute food baskets. As they were talking to the complex managers, they learned of a lady, who was not on the list, but in need of assistance. Because they had an extra box of food, they visited the apartment where the woman had envelopes set aside for rent, food and utilities.
Braunig said the woman was so appreciative of the food because she was able to take that expense off her list for a while in order to catch up on other responsibilities.
“That type of response means everything to us,” he said.
Braunig, who has been a Police Chaplain for 17 years and part of the food program for eight years, said police officers often get a bad wrap, but many officers have chosen this profession because they want to help the community.
“Police officers care about people,” he said. “They got into this profession to keep people safe.”
And giving back to the community is not only in the forefront of the Illini Lodge 17 during the Christmas season. The organization also provides a meal for the elderly, sends over 160 special needs children to summer camp and delivers baby seats to parents who cannot afford them throughout the year.
The lodge hosts several fundraisers to fund the outreach throughout the year. Food for the Christmas boxes are provided at cost by County Market.