University Park, IL,
09:44 AM

Alumnae's work feeds the community she leads

Maya Hardy leads United Way food drive


By Zion Banks, Agora Editor

As a United Way Regional Director of Development and Park Forest Trustee Maya Hardy (‘00, ‘02) takes pride in feeding hundreds of families in Southland communities, starting with those at her alma mater, Governors State University (GovState).

Overseeing an annual effort to collect food — April Food Drive —for a drive sponsored by the United Way’s Metro Chicago South-Southwest region, Hardy coordinates 150 volunteers to sort and distribute food to 10 food pantries, including one on campus.

What started in 2010 with 2,700 pounds of food has grown to an effort that is expected to collect 75,000 pounds of food for this year’s drive. Hardy said coordinating the drive feels like she’s feeding her community where food insecurity is common—especially when children are on summer break.

“In this region, some people live closer to a food pantry than to a grocery store. We want to make sure we are replenishing those pantries at a time when children really need it,’’ Hardy said, a village trustee since 2019.

Hardy saw the community’s need first-hand when she connected with another GovState alumnus Illinois Rep. Will Davis after she earned a master’s degree in Communications and Training in 2002. In 2000, Hardy received a bachelor’s degree in what is now IDSS.

As Davis's district administrator, Hardy helped constituents with a wide-range of requests from housing to food, to scholarships, and even inmate care.

The interactions sparked a love for human service work in Hardy, who longed for it after she left Davis’s office for another position at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority in Chicago.

“My work was important, but I wanted to go back to helping people. I missed the client interaction—that was the part that was missing and helping people in this region where I live.”

During her 11-year career at United Way, Hardy has taken on more responsibility, holding six titles. Her first position at a regional office in Matteson involved managing a grant. In 2015, the regional offices merged with United Way of Metro Chicago.

Today, Hardy manages fundraising, community impact, administrative work, and the 14-member South-Southwest Suburban Regional Board. A huge annual initiative is April Food Day.

“This is a region-wide effort to collect resources to address food insecurity,” she said. “It supplements families’ food needs for the summer months, because when children are home from school, the need is great. We want to ensure people in our communities can thrive."

Food insecurity hit close to home for former Suburban Regional Board Chair Johanns Williams, who in 2013,  created April Food Day in the Southland. The first food collection event was operated by seven volunteers and resulted in about 2,700 pounds of food.

Today, the goal of the drive is 75,000 pounds—more than 25 times the original drive’s results. Hardy said she is grateful to GovState where she honed her professional skills, and connected with the community she now serves. One of her sons also earned a degree from GovState in 2021.

“Governors State is where I developed relationships throughout the Southland which has helped me throughout my career. This is a full circle for me because I’m able to be in sync and to give back to a place that gave me so much.”