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Phil Hodel, left, communications director for Midwest Food Bank, explains the food repackaging operation carried out by volunteers at the food bank as former U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall, center, visits the food bank Tuesday in Normal. Hall listened to a tour given by food bank Executive Director Chad Bevers, right.

DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH

NORMAL — Former U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall wasn't shy in his praise for Midwest Food Bank on Tuesday.

"I've been to a hundred of these (food warehouses). I've never seen one like this before," he said during a tour of the Normal facility. "This is first-class."

Hall, a former ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, visited Midwest Food Bank to see how it serves the hungry across Central Illinois and the nation. 

Hall was in town to speak at Immanuel Bible Foundation's Men's Lenten Breakfast on Wednesday at the foundation-run Broadview Mansion in Normal.

The food bank, which started in a McLean County barn 15 years ago, is headquartered at a 100,000-square-foot warehouse off Northtown Road that Hall walked, alongside guests, with guidance from Midwest Food Bank Bloomington-Normal Executive Director Chad Bevers.

Bevers showed Hall not only the warehouse, where the agency stores tons of food that volunteers load onto trucks for more than 400 agencies that help the needy, but also the front dining room and indoor basketball courts that Midwest Food Bank officials hope will help bring in more volunteers.

"We're still developing it, but we're starting to get a few things booked. The general idea is, 'Let's get some people out here, introduce them to our facility for this and hopefully bring them into that (volunteering),'" said Bevers. 

When Bevers told the group about the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which helped Midwest Food Bank by making the companies that give food less legally liable, Hall noted he sponsored that legislation during his 24 years as a Democratic congressman from Ohio.

Hall now serves as executive director emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger, a nonprofit organization working with the federal government and others to address hunger worldwide.

"There's 41 million people in this country that are hungry, and most Americans don't know this is happening in their own backyard," he said.

Phil Hodel, communications director for Midwest Food Bank, said he was thrilled to welcome Hall to the facility.

"It's nice to have somebody come that has the experience that he has and the passion that he has for helping the hungry," said Hodel. "It's great for him to see how we work and for us to have his experience and expertise as a guest."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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