Chicago resident Sidney Gatshcet was one of two winners on hand at Forest Park's Ultra Foods grocery store, on 7520 Roosevelt Rd., Saturday morning. He was there to accept $5,000 in gift cards for groceries that was presented to him by Illinois Farm Families, a statewide collective of farmers that is focused on educating the public about contemporary farming.
To say Gatschet was excited would be an understatement.
"I couldn't believe it," Gatschet said. "When I read the email [that said he won] I had to read it a few more times."
Gatschet received the prize as part of a raffle-like contest called Farmers Feed US sweepstakes; its stated aim is to provide winners with groceries for a year. From July to the beginning of October, over 135,000 Illinoisans registered for the sweepstakes at the Illinois Farm Families website.
Gatschet said he will use the money to cover the cost of groceries for his 10 step-grandchildren and to help out folks who are in need.
"I won't forget somebody who might be a little worse off than us," Gatschet said.
He chose to receive $4,000 in Ultra Foods gift cards, while the other $1,000 will be used at Jewel Osco (cards for multiple stores are availble).
Gatschet said he saw an Illinois Farm Families commercial on television that advertised the sweepstakes; that, he said, piqued his interest and prompted him to visit the website, and sign up for the sweepstakes.
"Just out of curiosity, I did it, and I can't believe that I won," he said.
At a time when consumers are more curious than ever about where their food comes from, Illinois Farm Families stated goal is to provide education and offer a window into how food is grown and handled.
And the Illinois Farm Families website allows users the opportunity to meet and ask questions of real farmers.
"My animals are raised the same for my family as they are for everyone else's family," said Brent Scholl, a pork farmer from Polo, Ill., who awarded Gatschet the grand prize. "We're just trying to show the consumer that."
The organization's site also offers farmers to connect with consumers.
"The producers are tired of everyone telling our story for us and not telling it accurately," Scholl said.
"People ask a lot of questions about where their food is coming from," said Amy Roady, a spokesperson for the Illinois Soybean Association, which partners with Illinois Farm Families. "We're just trying to let people hear it from the farmers who are raising it."
Nick Moroni contributed to this article