Dennis Tischler (left) of Tischler Finer Foods and Rob Rolewicz of the Brookfield Elks have partnered to deliver food baskets to more than 100 clients of BEDS Plus, helping that organization feed the food- and housing-insecure in the area. (Provided)

Since 1988, BEDS Plus has been a beacon of hope for scores of adults and children struggling with homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment and mental health concerns. 

Through its emergency services, community partnerships, transitional residential shelters and other outreach programs, the organization has spent three decades providing vulnerable residents of the southwest suburbs with a sense of stability and independence during the most tumultuous of times.

And while nearly all area residents began feeling the fear of COVID-19, uncertainty in employment and major shifts in everyday life at the onset of the pandemic, those served by BEDS Plus especially grew more concerned about how they would make it day by day.

So last March, quick thinking and foresight helped avoid further instability through the creation of the Match a Meal Program — an initiative by BEDS Plus to help both shelter residents and others facing food insecurity by distributing meal donations through partnerships with local restaurants.

According to Erin Molek, community relations manager at BEDS Plus, the Match a Meal Program has helped provide regular meals to more than 175 area clients in motel-based shelter programs through the organization.

“BEDS Plus has been able to send meals to shelter clients every day,” Molek said. “It takes a community of people who make and deliver home-cooked meals six days a week to clients.”

In an effort to further help BEDS Plus’ mission, a longtime Brookfield business and  fraternal organization — Tischler Finer Foods and Brookfield Elks Lodge #1510 — have pooled resources to help provide hundreds of more meals to BEDS Plus clients.

The man behind the partnership is Brookfield resident Bob Rolewicz, a longtime Elks member and chairman of the Elks board of directors. While the Elks has been a longtime supporter of BEDS Plus through financial donations and grocery gift cards, late last year Rolewicz thought that there had to be another way the Elks could partner with another community leader to strengthen support for BEDS Plus.

Rolewicz, who started a food basket program as a young member of the former Cicero-Berwyn Elks in the late 1970s, thought that now was a better time than ever to recreate a similar program for area residents in need.

“What we did [back in the day] was call churches and social service agencies and took referrals, and we would bag up groceries and make baskets and deliver them to families,” he said. “Over the years, the process has changed because social service organizations maintain close privacy of clients, and especially during these times of the pandemic, a lot of people don’t want to be visited in-person.”

One day while shopping at Tischler’s, Rolewicz saw a poster for the St. Barbara Food Pantry food basket program, where shoppers can buy a breakfast or dinner basket and Tischler’s would deliver the food to the pantry. 

While Rolewicz spoke with the food pantry about extending the partnership to the Elks, he said the pantry said they had an abundance of food due to the public’s generosity.

So, he thought, “Why not approach BEDS?”

“I thought doing a grocery match would be the biggest bang for our buck,” he said.

After speaking with Dennis Tischler, owner of the grocery store, and Molek at BEDS Plus, the three created a new extension of the Match a Meal Program, in which Tischler’s customers could purchase a $6 food basket at the store, with the Elks matching up to $1,200 in donations.

Through the joint partnership, the Tischler/Elks meal match has helped BEDS Plus feed an additional 100 food-insecure clients, helping supplement food assistance with staple grocery items including vegetables, meats and other fresh produce the clients otherwise could not afford or receive through traditional food bank donations or restaurant meals.

Along with the Tischler’s breakfast and dinner meal baskets, BEDS Plus is also using donations through Tischler’s to purchase microwave meals to supplement both clients of the shelter/motel program and those living on their own and receiving assistance through BEDS Plus.

For Rolewicz, the partnership has been another way to demonstrate to the greater community the drive the Elks have to not only show support for local businesses, but also for philanthropy.

“Above all, we are a charitable organization,” he said. “Above and beyond the socialization, we try to sell new members on the concept of volunteering and trying to help the community.”

Molek says that with the need for food greater than ever for clients of BEDS Plus, the partnership between the trusted community grocer and fraternal organization has been a blessing.

“The food and the support local groups like the Elks and Tischler’s have given to us right now are vital for our ability to extend our services to those in need in the community,” she said. “This is a really unique way to pay it forward — we’re helping out small businesses by bringing revenue and it’s a win-win situation all around. We have found a way to help vulnerable individuals, and it’s such a great feeling to be able to do that and pay it forward to businesses that have always been there for us.”