Alumni from Black fraternities and sororities unite, and mobilize volunteers for food pantry

Michele Steinbacher | November 8, 2023

A local alumni group representing historically Black fraternities and sororities is making a difference in the fight against food insecurity in Bloomington-Normal.

The Twin City chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) brings together dozens of volunteers each month to help distribute food at a Normal food pantry.

For NPHC, also known as the Divine Nine, the event has become the group’s signature way to give back to the McLean County area, said Sylvester Davis, president of the local chapter.

“This is one of our staple events that we do for the community,” in addition to each group having its own community outreach and philanthropic efforts, he said.

A partnership between Unit 5 and Eastern Illinois Foodbank, the once-a-month pantry usually is held on a Saturday at Normal West Community High School. For several years, the site has served thousands of McLean County residents.

Dayna Brown, Unit 5’s communications and community relations director, spearheaded the partnership about five years ago. She said the pantry numbers show the need is great.

About 3,500 income-eligible residents have visited the Normal West pop-up so far this year. Brown estimates enough food to provide about 100,000 meals will have been distributed this calendar year.

That translates to about 10% of the annual output from Eastern Illinois Foodbank, a nonprofit that serves a region covering 18 counties.

Unit 5 volunteers and representatives from a number of community groups have shown up over the years to help out. Those volunteers have really helped make the pantry possible, said Brown. But sometimes, it could be unpredictable whether enough people would volunteer on a given day, she said.

But when the local chapter of NPHC decided to take this project on, providing a stable roster of volunteers, “(They) really made this their project, and they come week in, week out, and you know, help every month,” said Brown.

“The Divine Nine are a great organization and they’re always looking to help. And they just bring so many different volunteers” from the organization’s nine different chapters, she said.

The NPHC is a nearly century-old organization founded at Howard University. It collectively represents nine historically Black fraternities and sororities spread across the nation’s campuses, and those groups’ alumni members.


Having Divine Nine members regularly at the pantry lets the local chapter help Bloomington-Normal, while also showing up as a group — to become more a part of the recognizable fabric of the community.

In the meantime, individual groups in the Divine Nine will continue community outreach with their pet projects. Some of those include cleaning roadside litter with the Adopt-A-Highway program, or helping distribute Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

The group’s Facebook page highlights different charitable events and programs.

But Davis and other Divine Nine volunteers said they like being familiar faces at the Normal West food pantry and providing representation at the community event.

But they also said they love how the food pantry served as a springboard for their fraternities and sororities to form the local NPHC chapter — and be collectively a more visible presence in the Bloomington-Normal community.

Another food mobile at Normal West is right around the corner. McLean County residents who meet the income guidelines can come to the school cafeteria this Saturday, Nov. 11, to receive groceries.

Unit 5’s Brown said while the Divine Nine provide a great core group of volunteers, the food pantry can always use more help.

To learn more about volunteering, or how to pre-register as a recipient, visit the Eastern Illinois Foodbank website.