SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Once the holidays pass, area food pantries often find their shelves empty.
Over the past two years, food insecurity has been even more pronounced by the COVID-19 pandemic as many have found themselves out of work or with reduced hours and pay.
Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) sees firsthand the needs of those he is elected to serve as he makes his way around southern Illinois.
"I got to thinking," he said, "a can of soup is a good, hearty, meal."
Fowler said his original thought was to do a collection in conjunction with the Super Bowl, but time was a factor so he came up with a different idea.
After meeting with local church and business leaders, the "Together We Can" drive ensued, with an initial goal of collecting 10,000 cans of soup.
The donations began rolling in and the initial goal was quickly shattered, a response that did not surprise Fowler.
"I've seen it time in and time out," he said, "especially with food insecurity. People see the need, they understand it, and they want to step up and do something about it."
This year's drive is now underway and Fowler is looking to break last year's record of 53,000 cans.
"We're already on our way," he said, as the drive kicked off last week with a donation of two full pallets of canned soup and food and nearly $25,000 in donations already promised.
With monetary donations, Fowler hopes to impact the local economy.
"We'll be buying canned soup at local grocery stores, targeting the locally-owned mom and pop store," he said.
Small's Meat Market in Marion is one of those. Owner Dave Reynolds will be working with Fowler again this year.
"We're glad to do out part and help local families," he said. "We provide the product at our cost. What we do get is that warm and fuzzy feeling of helping those in need."
Fowler said the Fowler Bonan Foundation will be working with at least a dozen local stores.
Donations are now welcome. There is a link on the foundation website at www.fowlerbonanfoundation.com.
Fowler said he is excited about such a great start this year.
"Again, look at the generosity of southern Illinois," he said. "Look how many families we'll be able to provide for."