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‘The time is right’ – Sauk Valley Food Bank director retiring after 17 years

September 19, 2018

STERLING – The first thing Carol Siefken wants to do after she steps down as director of the Sauk Valley Food Bank is stay home and enjoy a cup of coffee.

Siefken’s last day is Nov. 1, when Andrea Hengsen, 51, of Rock Falls, will become the new director.

“The time is right. After 17 years, I’ve done as much as I can,” Siefken, 76, said Tuesday as she and Hengsen discussed the coming changes.

She said she wants to join her husband, Russ Siefken Jr. in retirement. The 75-year-old stepped down March 1, 2016, after 24 years as United Way of Whiteside County’s executive director.

The food bank was started in 2001, after the closure of Northwestern Steel and Wire Co., Lawrence Brothers, and National Manufacturing increased demands on local food pantries. Siefken lost her job in computer finance when the mill closed.

The United Way of Whiteside County formed a committee and approached the River Bend Food Bank to see whether the area needed a food bank of its own.

“We started with a card table, a desk lamp, paper and pencil, and two pallets of food donated by the United Way of Sterling-Rock Falls,” Siefken said. The local United Way’s name changed in 2003 when Morrison joined.

From those two pallets, the food bank has gone to handle more than 2 million pounds of food a year.

It doesn’t provide food directly to those in need, but to pantries and other agencies. Any 501(c)3 group that gives away food can buy from the food bank, which= pays 7 cents per pound for the food and sells it to the groups for 18 cents per pound.

“The 11 cents keep the lights on,” Siefken said.

Area gardeners and businesses – such as Selmi’s Greenhouse and Farm Market in Rock Falls, Mitchell Melons in Tampico, and Blue Freedom Farm Market Inc. in Sterling – also donate to the food bank.

“Imagine someone who can’t afford a Mitchell’s melon or Selmi’s corn, then receiving it,” Siefken said.

She will remain involved with Rock Falls Methodist Church and Community Christmas for Children, and is on the Sterling Library Board.

“I’ll also be on call for Andrea.”

Coordinating donations will be part of Hengsen’s duties when she moves into the director’s seat. She started part-time in August 2017 at the food bank, and farms near the Whiteside County Airport with her husband, Joe Hengsen, 48. She has two children and two stepchildren.

“I’m still assessing. I don’t want to make any major changes,” she said, but “I do want us to get a Facebook page and website.”

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