David Pflederer [Precise Look Photography]
Lack of access to nutritious food has become a growing concern for thousands of residents in DuPage County, Illinois, where an estimated 62,000 individuals are food insecure, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap annual study. The pandemic has only made matters worse, highlighting the need for community support and resources to combat hunger.
Food insecurity, which is a lack of access to sufficient food to live a healthy and active life, can lead to many harmful social and health outcomes. It is often driven by unemployment, poverty, and sudden and unexpected decrease or loss of income.
In response, UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook, located in DuPage County, coordinates a mobile food pantry once a quarter. “People are super appreciative,” said Steve Klaus, manager of volunteer services for UChicago Medicine Advent Health Bolingbrook and UChicago Medicine Advent Health GlenOaks. “They really need this and, in some cases, they can’t afford to have quality nutritious food for them and their families.”
Klaus and the hospital volunteers have organized the distribution so that members of the community can easily come and get what they need. “Everyone can drive up in their cars and get the nutritious food they may need,” said Klaus. "We have a whole bunch of volunteers from our hospital leadership, volunteers of the hospital and some of the local high school students ready” to give out bags of food.
Klaus’ 30-year teaching career allowed him to engage the local high schools and create a pool of student volunteers who can learn about AdventHealth and experience the positive impact of volunteering.
Partnering with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, AdventHealth collects a wide variety of quality food. While the selection varies each time, there is always protein, vegetables, fruits and dry foods. “In November 2022, we received prepackaged Thanksgiving holiday meals [from the food bank], which were widely distributed.”
The mobile food pantry was borne out of a strong focus on community engagement and outreach at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook. That focus is deeply rooted in the connection team members have to living out AdventHealth’s mission of extending the healing ministry of Christ. It goes beyond caring for the physical needs of individuals; the community also sees the hospital as a resource. “The leadership at AdventHealth is really giving of their time and talents,” said Klaus, remarking that approximately 90% of the food pantry volunteers are members of the hospital leadership. “We have a good time out there. It’s great to have the rewarding feeling and experience of helping people and providing them with things they may need.”
While plans are not finalized, there is a desire to expand the mobile food pantry to provide greater access and more food variety to the community. “We want to support our communities in the best way we can,” said Klaus. “There may be some logistical challenges, but we will work our way through that.”
At UChicago Medicine AdventHealth GlenOaks, getting connected and engaged with the community is a major priority, particularly with the presence of different faith communities in the area. In an effort to establish key connections, Renante Gomez, chaplain manager at the hospital, started contacting local faith leaders. “We let them know we wanted to partner with them to figure out how we can best serve the community,” said Gomez. “We wanted to create a partnership with the interfaith community.”
Speaking with faith leaders, Gomez learned that much of what they were already doing was a great resource for them – including the Ministerial Forum, a space for local faith leaders to come together for training, talks and resource sharing. During those moments, they identified the need to learn more about end-of-life palliative care so they could better support families dealing with it. “Sometimes people may have someone in their family circle who is a candidate for palliative care, and they may not know what to do or how to help them,” said Gomez.
Gomez contacted James McGrath, a physician at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth with expertise in palliative care, to speak to the group and provide guidance on the best way to minister to those in palliative care and to have the conversations regarding the care of their loved ones.
Gomez has started to see the positive impact in the community, sharing how leaders of all faiths have started attending the forums. “During a recent meeting, the mayor of Glendale Heights came to support us as well and stayed for the whole meeting,” said Gomez. “I think it’s building bridges to connect with our local leaders. Not only religious leaders but the leaders in the city, so we can partner with them and let them know that our hospital is here to serve them.”
Losing a loved one is an experience that few can truly understand. The loss is a particular kind of grief with no linear path to healing, and a journey that is unique to every person. And while there is no singular “right” way to navigate it, receiving support and finding healthy ways to express that grief can be an enormous help to many.
At UChicago Medicine AdventHealth La Grange, a monthly grief support group was created to do just that. “We started this group because we felt that it was really needed, especially during the pandemic,” said Maria Maestre, chaplain at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth La Grange. “Too many people lost loved ones. It was terrible.”
The grief support group is always open to the community, to patients and to team members who would like to attend. “Sometimes we have five in attendance, sometimes we have one – but they know I am always there for them,” said Maestre.
In each group session, participants openly share what’s on their minds. Every session is different, and Maestre understands each participant will have different needs and will be at a different stage in their recovery journey.
“I’ve lost a loved one,” Maestre shares, talking about the loss of her husband. “I understand the process of grieving because I experienced that same process. I suffered just like them, but I am growing and with the blessing of God, I’m able to help others grow in their recovery and remember the legacy of their loved ones.”
Crafts are also part of the healing process. Sometimes these crafts help them express their grief. Other times, the crafts can take on a symbolic meaning. “In the springtime, we organize a craft involving a small planter and some flower seeds,” said Maestre, sharing how they try to emphasize the symbolism of every spring as a new beginning. “We’re able to draw a symbolic connection between a craft and any feelings that may arise as they decorate the planter. And it’s something they can take home with them as a reminder as well.”
Maestre and her chaplaincy team strive to be a support and a resource for the community to help them and meet them where they are with whatever is needed and however they can help.
When disaster strikes or a crisis occurs, AdventHealth team members band together to help those in need. Sometimes, this response starts when one team member makes the decision to answer the call. That’s how it happened with Dr. Ben Yerlioglu.
While Yerlioglu has been a team member at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Hinsdale for the last five years, he is also the president of the Turkish American Medical Professionals association (TUMED) – a non-profit organization that focuses on supporting the Turkish community in the U.S. through mentoring and developing Turkish American students in medicine, providing health care education and other activities.
When a catastrophic earthquake rocked southeast Turkey in February 2023 and caused death and devastation to hundreds of thousands of people, Yerlioglu jumped into action. With his hospital colleagues, TUMED members, local churches and others from the community, they gathered medical supplies, clothes, blankets, tents and donations. “Everyone was so devoted to the cause, and I really appreciated all the support,” said Yerlioglu. “Most of what we have collected has already been sent, but we still have five or six more boxes to send with donations.”
Yerlioglu worked with the Turkish Consulate and other reputable organizations to ensure the donations and financial contributions were distributed to those most in need following the earthquake. “Turkish Airlines even took the packages for free,” he shared.
The experience inspired Yerlioglu, seeing the commitment from his colleagues and the community to come together and make a difference during a time of crisis. He hopes that if a crisis ever happens again, they will all come together to help once again.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17: 22-23 NIV.
Early in his ministry, Jesus spoke on the importance of coming together for a greater purpose. Healing the sick and bringing hope to a world in need would require much effort. Knowing this, He prayed that his disciples would be unified, so that His love and healing words would draw others to Him.
Five decades ago, leaders from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Southern Union, along with hospital executives throughout the region, were inspired to unite individual hospitals to strengthen the impact of mission in their communities.
On February 15, 1973, leaders gathered in the assembly room of what was then Florida Hospital in Orlando (now AdventHealth Orlando) and created a new corporation: Southern Adventist Health and Hospital Systems, Inc. Together, the new system — which included hospitals that had already been present in various communities throughout the Southern Union territory for decades — would continue the rich legacy of health and healing that started with the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. No longer nine separate entities, the unified group would seek to touch more lives and extend care more effectively in the future.
Half a century later, this strategic vision has been realized through the tremendous work carried out in more than 50 hospitals throughout the AdventHealth system and hundreds of primary care facilities. Each hospital continues to push forward to find new and innovative ways to care for its communities.
Today, AdventHealth serves more than 6.7 million patients each year in nine states — Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas and Kansas — as well as our international health partnerships in 14 locations to date. Over the decades, its humble beginnings gave way to a team of more than 80,000 dedicated individuals providing Christ-like, compassionate, whole-person care each day. While much has changed in five decades, AdventHealth’s mission remains a key element of what makes AdventHealth unique.
Driven by this mission, AdventHealth continues to leave a legacy of high-quality, holistic care that is recognized by patients, families and external organizations alike. Recently, AdventHealth was recognized by national hospital rating agencies for its high-quality care. The Emerald Award, given by The Leapfrog Group to just one organization in the U.S, recognized AdventHealth for Outstanding Achievement by a Health Care System. In addition, U.S. News and World Report ranked AdventHealth facilities across the country as some of the best in their respective communities.
What started as a dream half a century ago to create healthier communities has become a unifying force for good, bringing hope and Christ-centered care to millions of people. Today, AdventHealth remains on mission: focused on serving communities through excellent care, addressing their needs and bringing whole-person healing to people.
AdventHealth’s mission and the work it takes to carry it out is at the heart of the organization — each day and in every interaction. This mission, fueled by love, care and compassion, is lived out through team members who look at the organization’s mission and say “yes, this is what I want to do every day.”
AdventHealth team members demonstrate the heartbeat of the organization through their actions, going beyond medical needs and providing care, so that everyone — whether a team member, a client, a patient or a member of the community (locally or globally) — feels whole.
Elizabeth Camps, senior communications specialist at AdventHealth