Between the Lines: Derek Gibbs

By Samantha Brockett

A local man looks to help change the world, one bowl of soup at a time.

Derek Gibbs was born and raised in Sycamore and he graduated from Sycamore High School in 2001.

After his high school graduation, he attended Kishwaukee Community College on and off for a few years, changing majors. Eventually, Gibbs decided to move to Denver, Colo., for a change. While in Colorado, he decided to go back to school at the Art Institute of Colorado. He graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in photography.

“I wanted to do something that I liked to do instead of focusing on how much money I made,” Gibbs said. “It’s worked out well so far.”

After graduation, Gibbs moved back to the Sycamore area. He had hopes of moving to Chicago to start a career in photography with editorial portraits but said he was unable to because the economy was in a poor state.

About eight months after Gibbs moved back to Illinois, he logged onto Facebook and noticed mutual friends were beginning to like a new page called “Feed’em Soup.”

Feed’em soup, 122 S. First St., is a nonprofit organization that started in January 2010 that serves free meals to the community.

“After I saw the page, I contacted them saying, ‘Hey, I want to do photos for you guys.’ I did an interview with them after that and was instantly hooked,” Gibbs said. “After that, I began to voluntarily work 40 hours a week for Feed’Em Soup doing advertising and photos.”

While Gibbs volunteered for the organization every so often, he worked various jobs to help afford life. These jobs included restaurant food delivery, photography and graphic design jobs, and a marketing director position at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St.

Gibbs was placed on Feed’em Soup’s board of directors. While on the board, Gibbs found himself participating in various tasks, from cleaning to public speaking.

In November, Gibbs became the executive director for Feed’em Soup and gave his two-week notice to the Egyptian Theatre.

“I knew that when the executive director position opened, it was what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” Gibbs said. “This is my passion.”

Gibbs said he is constantly working to help Feed’em Soup grow and wanted the organization to be recognized for more than providing a free meal. He wanted the community meals to be recognized as an opportunity for all members of the community to gather together without feeling excluded. The other goal Gibbs holds is to break down the stigma of a soup kitchen.

“We struggle with people not taking advantage of us being open because they are too proud and they feel that there is a stigma by eating our meals,” Gibbs said. “We want people with all incomes to come here and not feel bad, we have plenty of food to give.”

Gibbs said a successful day in his job is when someone comes in to Feed’em soup and they find a way to help make their day better.

“We had a woman come in who had just started a job as ringing the bell outside of stores for Salvation Army donations who did not have a winter coat that zipped up,” Gibbs said. “We found her one and she left in tears. It’s moments like those that make this job worth it.”