McHENRY – Jerry Macey is a fighter.
The 70-year-old McHenry man twice survived notoriously aggressive cancers – pancreatic and bladder.
With a faith in God and a few volunteers, Macey also is passionate about feeding the community. He ran McHenry County’s SHARE food program, but when the Wisconsin-based food co-op shuttered last year, he was left wondering how to feed the 60 families that relied on SHARE’s deep grocery discounts.
So Macey got busy.
SHARE was a food-buying club with no income guidelines. Macey said if “Bill Gates, if he walked in the door, could buy the food.” The co-op promised participants up to 50 percent savings on grocery store prices.
Macey didn’t want to see the movement fail. So he began researching to start a venture on his own.
He now partners with Loaves and Fishes Food Ministry in Crystal Lake. The food comes from St. Louis-based Mid America Foods.
Macey recently sat down with Northwest Herald reporter Chelsea McDougall.
McDougall: How did you get involved with SHARE?
Macey: When I retired, I was looking for something to do, and I kept reading in the papers about the people that were very concerned about where their meals were coming from. I had the time. My life was spent in sales, so it was an easy fit to promote this.
McDougall: And how did people respond?
Macey: [SHARE] lasted about 10 months. We were the fastest-growing host site for SHARE. That included about 250 sites. We were growing by leaps and bounds. ... A lot of people came to rely on this program.
McDougall: So you did all the organizing to get this new program started?
Macey: I tried to duplicate [SHARE], and I found the easiest part was contracting to get the food. ... What I couldn’t get done was the background that I didn’t ever think about. That’s websites, credit card approvals, Link card approvals. There’s a lot that goes on in the background that I couldn’t accomplish.
McDougall: How does this new program compare to SHARE?
Macey: I have to be very careful of the quality. I don’t want just cheap food. That serves no purpose. What I look for is good, nourishing food at very competitive prices. ... [Mid America Foods is] pretty much the same.
McDougall: How would you persuade people to give Loaves and Fishes a try?
Macey: Are we the cheapest? No, we’re not, but what I can guarantee is 25 [percent] to 40 percent savings off grocery store pricing for good food. The 25 [percent] to 40 percent savings can go a long way in paying other bills.
McDougall: Why do you enjoy it?
Macey: Because it’s helping people. Am I a savior? No. There are lots and lots of people doing a lot more than I am. But if you can just help one person out a day, it’s going to make things a lot better. ... All I’m doing is using the talents God gave me, and that is to talk to people, reason with them, and help them save money for their family.
McDougall: You are two-time cancer survivor, correct?
Macey: In 1997, I came down with pancreatic cancer. They put me at Loyola in front of the surgeon who did more Whipple procedures than anybody else in the world. ... He assured me that I won’t die from the cancer. ... After five years [in remission], he said, ‘I guess we don’t have to see ya.’ I looked at him and I said, ‘I won’t die?’ And he said, ‘You’re not going to die from this, but you will die. We all die, but you’re pretty safe with pancreatic cancer.’
McDougall: Did they catch it early?
Macey: The secret to cancer is getting it early.
McDougall: Because pancreatic cancer is ...
Macey: A killer, yeah. ... I found out five years after my pancreatic, that I had bladder cancer. ... I became stage 4 bladder cancer, which I guess is also a killer.
My oncologist tells me all the time, he says it’s nothing he’s doing. It’s got to be God. ... Somebody’s got something in mind for me. I’m a little afraid to ask God, ‘OK you saved me, now what do you want me to do?’
The Macey lowdown
Who is he? Coordinator of Loaves and Fishes food co-op with Mid America Foods.
Family: Wife, Ann, of 31 years, six sons and 15 grandchildren.
Hobbies: Anything outdoors – hunting, fishing, walking in the woods.
Favorite author: John Grisham.