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Dolans double-down on food pantry support

Marie WilkinsFood Pantry volunteer Bonnie Wegman adds food shelf for distributiclients from Mutual Ground Wednesday September 5 2012. | Jeff

Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry volunteer Bonnie Wegman adds food to a shelf for distribution to clients from Mutual Ground on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Spirit Awards

What: Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry Annual Spirit Awards Luncheon

When: 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry, 834 N. Highland Ave., Aurora

Tickets: $20; visit

Updated: October 11, 2012 6:05AM

There may be a four-year difference in age, but the Dolan brothers grew up fostering a robust sibling rivalry.

As proof: Plenty of hours were spent “bashing against each other” on the racquetball court, says younger sibling Brian Dolan, who even admits he broke a few racquets on the wall trying to beat his older bro Dan.

“I was more athletic,” Brian Dolan admitted. “But I couldn’t outsmart him.”

Fortunately, the brothers parlayed that competitive drive into helping grow Dolan and Murphy Inc., the already successful commercial real estate business their father Dan Sr. started in Aurora 47 years ago.

But one playing field where they don’t go head to head is feeding the hungry, even though both men pour countless hours volunteering for two different local food pantries.

Eight years ago, Brian Dolan, 56, was asked to sit on the board of the Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry. And from his neighboring office at Dolan and Murphy, Dan pours his efforts into helping fill the shelves of the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry with the Holiday Food Drive he started four years ago.

“Food is such a basic need,” Brian Dolan says. “We both feel so blessed. This community has been so good to us. And this is an important way we can give back.”

The Dolan brothers learned that lesson at the knee of their father, whose footprint can be found all over this community, not only in major business ventures like the Chicago Premium Outlets mall but also through countless philanthropic seeds he’s sowed over the years, including the Dolan Family Endowment Fund.

The fact the two sons ended up at separate pantries “is just sort of ironic,” said Dan Dolan. “It wasn’t like there was thought put to it.”

There are certainly benefits to those family ties, however.

While the vast majority of the food garnered from Dan Dolan’s holiday drive goes to the Interfaith pantry, two days worth of groceries from this month-long project — it begins Nov. 1 — goes directly to the Marie Wilkinson pantry. Last year that came to $2,000 worth of food, says Brian Dolan, “which was a significant boost for us.”

Equally important is the Marie Wilkinson Pantry’s collaborative effort with Interfaith and other local pantries that’s not as much about sharing food as it is information to better fill client needs.

And there is no doubt, say both Dolan brothers, that need is growing. Marie Wilkinson Director Diane Renner says the pantry serves an average of 120 families a month, including clients from Mutual Ground. This August, 2,175 people went through the pantry, an increase of 78 percent.

This growing need, she added, is the reason the pantry – which will be holding its Annual Spirit Awards Luncheon on Thursday — will soon begin an expansion project that will double its size. This new space will feature a waiting area where clients can take part in food and cooking classes, as well as a larger distribution area that will allow people to shop for their food instead of being handed bags of groceries.

While the Marie Wilkinson Pantry tends to serve people in the more northern area of Aurora, clients also come from North Aurora, the Tri-Cities, Sugar Grove and Hinckley. “But we don’t turn anyone away,” says Renner.

There are 15 food pantries serving the Aurora, Kendall, Naperville and Elgin areas. And unfortunately, there’s enough need to keep all of them busy.

“When it comes to feeding the hungry,” says Brian Dolan, “it’s not about competition. It’s about cooperation.”

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