On his way to work during the first spring months of the pandemic, Jason Kinander had this nagging feeling that would not go away.
“I was driving past a local pantry in DuPage County and I saw how many cars were queuing up for food assistance, and that really bothered me,” he said.
Kinander is the CEO of his family-owned business in Roselle. His company biography says he started working on a factory job there as a 16-year-old, changing light bulbs and sweeping floors. Now 55, Kinander has built a successful career, but he is still one who asks people around him, “What can I do to help?”
As masks, goggles and gloves were almost impossible to find, Kinander went up to provide DuPage County Sheriff’s Office with personal protective equipment.
“He went to private buyers and internet sales and did a lot of things to get us PPE under COVID,” said Sheriff James Mendrick.
But Kinander felt compelled to do more.
An idea got him when Mendrick started an attempt to feed families in need. The sheriff called the program “It Takes a Village,” a sentiment shared by Kinander.
Mendrick’s department partnered with Meals on Wheels to distribute food twice a month, mostly to seniors.
On a chilly morning last Saturday, just as they did last year, the sheriff’s deputies and volunteers served a Thanksgiving bounty to people waiting in a long, double row of cars wrapped around the county government’s campus in Wheaton.
It would not have been possible without Kinander. His company, Electri-Flex, donated 800 turkeys to the sheriff’s department, food pantries and other non-profit organizations in the area to donate to people struggling with hunger.
“Jason carries his heart on his sleeve,” Mendrick said. “He’s a generous man. He’s a successful businessman. And I love it because he really wants to give back.”
Without overlooking any details, Kinander’s staff provide foil frying pans for the turkeys, each tipping the weight to 15 to 20 pounds. During the week before Thanksgiving, they transform a production plant that makes electric pipes into an assembly line for meal packing.
The boxes were filled with turkeys, cooking instructions, mashed potatoes and canned vegetables. DuPage County board member Jim Zay donated 550 bags of stuffing.
Jason Kinander, CEO of Electri-Flex Co., and DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick fill meal sets with a Thanksgiving spread. “Jason, for me, should be ‘Citizen of the Year’ as far as I’m concerned,” Mendrick said.
– Brian Hill | Staff photographer
Some of the boxes were tied to pantries in Bloomingdale, Addison and Lisle Township in addition to community organizations throughout the county.
Electri-Flex also rented a freezer truck to supply the remaining 250 turkeys and dinner sets to Wheaton. In a brisk two hours, the sheriff’s staff loaded cars with the Thanksgiving spread plus Meals on Wheels boxes, to help families get through the holidays.
“It looks like an emissions test,” Mendrick said of the attendance. Families picked up pretty much a week’s worth of food and a turkey for Thanksgiving.
“There’s still a huge need for people who go hungry,” said Kinander, whose company supplied 1,000 turkeys last year. “Food, it’s expensive. They live paycheck to paycheck. Their lives have been disrupted by something they had no control over.”
A testament to its name, “It Takes a Village” relies on companies to deal with food insecurity. Itasca audit firm Fates, Bodily and Parker; Precision stamping products; recycling nonprofit READY; Roselle Police Association Foundation; and Lisle Township also sponsored the Thanksgiving awards event.
Occasionally, Kinander will receive a letter of thanks or a message from someone who has received a meal.
“It’s touching when you get an answering machine on your phone at work,” he said. “They think it’s the best thing in the world that they got a week’s food during a vacation.”
But he is not looking for recognition. He declined to say how much the donations cost. Electri-Flex also contributed hams for Easter and chicken and bratwurst for the fourth of July.
Mendrick presented him with a sheriff’s award in recognition of his support. But again, Kinander does not like to dwell on the honor.
“I was humbled by it. Undeserved. There are a lot of people in this community who do a lot of good things,” the Itasca resident said. “And I was moved and humbled and worn out by it.”
And what about the nagging feeling, the desire to help?
“If I know Jason, we’ll be at it again next year,” Mendrick said.
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