Friday, September 26, 2014

The 1 in 5: A community institution

Rozenia, Jaliyah and Javon at the Union League Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park.
In our community, hundreds of thousands of children face hunger every day. But, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations provide programs designed to fight childhood hunger.

On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization - the federal law that funds many of those programs - is set to expire.

Twice a month for the next year, we will be telling stories about the importance of those programs. These are the real stories of the 1 in 5 children in Cook County who face food insecurity.

After school, the Union League Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park is a buzzing hub of activity. Children of all ages play soccer or basketball in the gym, tap ping pong balls back and forth on table tennis courts, or study with textbook and pencil in hand.

For more than 20 years, children have been coming to the club after school. But they don’t just come for the activities or for a place to study.

“We’ve been here for a long time,” said Hector Perez, the club’s senior director. “We’ve also been a part of the Kids Cafe program since 2000.”

Kids Cafes - a part of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program - provide children with a nutritious meal after school at community centers, churches, and other organizations. In Humboldt Park, the child poverty rate is nearly 49 percent, which makes the Union League Club’s Kids Cafe a critical barrier to hunger among children in the area. Every day, the program provides more than 150 nutritious meals for children prepared by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Rozenia Barron, a long-time volunteer at the Union League, sees the meals’ impact every day – especially now that her two grandchildren are there after school.

“The meal helps their parents a great deal,” she said. “The children need healthy food, but that’s expensive. When their parents can’t afford it, they can still get it here.”

Five-year-old Jaliyah, Rozenia’s granddaughter, is happy to eat the healthy fruit and vegetables she gets at the Union League Club.

“My favorite food here is the vegetables. Even the peas!” she exclaimed. “And I like the pears, too.”

Her brother, Javon, is seven. He just started second grade and struggles with a learning disability.

“The meals he gets here help him stay focused,” Rozenia said.

After volunteering at the club for 20 years, Rozenia has seen plenty of children come and go. But there’s one thing many have in common.

“These kids are hungry,” she said. “But this place is like a community institution. Without it, I don’t know where a lot of these kids would go for a meal after school."

View this story as a Story Map at chicagosfoodbank.org/1in5.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Get involved in the fight against hunger during Hunger Action Month

In Cook County, 1 in 6 people receives food from a pantry, soup kitchen or shelter. That's more than 812,000 annually. Awareness is critical in the fight to end hunger.

During Hunger Action Month this September, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is encouraging those in Cook County to raise awareness and take action. There are a number of ways to get involved:

Go orange to show your support of hunger-relief.
Change your social media profile picture to the image above during the month of September to raise awareness for the issue of hunger in our community. Or, wear orange to show your support.

Step into the shoes of someone who's hungry. Take the SNAP Challenge.
The SNAP Challenge asks participants to live on just $35 of food for a week - the average weekly SNAP benefit for an individual in Illinois. The Challenge highlights the difficult decisions many in our community must make every day as they struggle to afford food. Read the SNAP Challenge guidelines.

Sign the Social Donation Plate
Visit thedonationplate.org and join Chicago sports teams and celebrities in the fight against hunger by signing their virtual donation plate or by starting your own. Then, pass it to friends on social media to spread the word and help fill the plates of hungry men, women and children in our community.

These are just a few ways to take action during Hunger Action Month. Visit chicagosfoodbank.org/HAM to find more ways to get involved.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interactive Story Map: The summer Lunch Bus

Click above to view an interactive Story Map that follows the Lunch Bus across Cook County.

This summer, the Greater Chicago Food Depository's Lunch Bus traveled three different routes throughout Cook County, delivering nearly 1,000 nutritious meals to children in need every weekday.

The Southwest City route takes the Lunch Bus through Cicero, South Lawndale, Mckinley Park, West Englewood and more. At each stop, there are stories to tell. There is joy, as children laugh, eat and play together. There are also children in need and families who struggle to make ends meet.

This interactive Story Map captures one day of distributing summer meals along the Southwest City Lunch Bus route, with different stories, quotes and insight from each stop. Click the picture above to view the Story Map.

For more information about the Lunch Bus or the Food Depository's response to summer hunger, or to find summer meal sites, visit chicagosfoodbank.org.

Friday, June 27, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Overcoming life's challenges


From left to right, Valeria, Guadalupe and Roberto received summer meals at a Lunch Bus stop in Chicago Heights.
This is the final entry in our yearlong series, 52 Stories, 52 Weeks. To read any of the other stories in the series, click here.

Life is full of challenges, bumps in the road. Some are larger than others, but what’s most important is how they’re overcome.

On a sunny, muggy day at Smith Park in Chicago Heights, 3-year-old Roberto and 7-year-old Guadalupe Alcala’s most pressing challenge was accidentally getting whacked in the face with a soccer ball.

While Guadalupe nursed her lip and Roberto rubbed his eye, the children’s mother silently faced overcoming a larger challenge: hunger.

“It’s really hard to make ends meet,” Maria said. “Food is starting to get really expensive. Two lemons cost $1. That’s too much.”

Maria is working part-time at a laundromat, while her husband works full-time in a lumber yard. Their monthly budget leaves little room for food.

“With my husband’s salary, it takes us two checks to pay our rent, and then we can use whatever is left for water, electric, phone bills,” she said.

While the family does receive SNAP benefits, their food budget becomes especially tight during the summer, since the children no longer eat breakfast and lunch at school.

That’s why Maria, Roberto, Guadalupe and 6-year-old Valeria were at Smith Park. They were waiting for the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus.

“The Lunch Bus provides my kids a place to play, and they get to eat lunch,” Maria said. “It provides a little bit of help.”

When the bus arrived, nearly 100 ecstatic children lined up to receive meals at the park.

“My favorite part of today’s lunch was the cheese,” Guadalupe said, a rope of string cheese hanging from both sides of her mouth.

“Mine was the muffin,” Valeria chipped in.

The Lunch Bus makes 21 stops on three different routes across Cook County every weekday during the summer, distributing meals with a sandwich, fruit and vegetables.

“This program doesn’t benefit just my kids. Everyone else’s kids benefit from this,” Maria said.

For Maria, the Lunch Bus provides the food her children need to stay healthy and active during the summer. It’s one way she’s overcoming hunger.

As for Roberto and Guadalupe, it didn’t take long to overcome their playground bumps. The redness quickly faded and the tears were wiped away. After finishing lunch, they picked themselves up and headed back into the park, arm-in-arm, carefree and ready to tackle another summer day.

Friday, June 20, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'They're like a second family'

Whether homeless, employed or retired, Derrick can count on Grant Memorial AME's soup kitchen and food pantry for a consistent source of quality food.
At 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, dozens of people gather at Grant Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood to enjoy a hot meal. Many arrive early to socialize, play piano and sing along with their fellow neighbors. Once everyone's seated, however, it becomes clear that food is the focal point.

“It’s good food,” said Derrick Lucas, enjoying a plate of roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and beans. “And they’re good people.”

In addition to hot meals, Derrick has benefited from the bags of food Grant Memorial AME, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency, distributes through its food pantry.

“There aren’t too many churches that both feed you and give you a big bag of food,” Derrick said.

Since Derrick lives on his own, these bags of food will last him roughly two weeks.

Derrick has gone to the Grant Memorial AME soup kitchen and food pantry off and on for the past 10 years. Like many of the individuals eating with him, Derrick learned about these programs through word-of-mouth.

“I found out about this place a long time ago, and that’s when I really needed it,” he said. “I was homeless, I wasn’t working … This place kept me from being hungry a lot of days.”

Even as Derrick transitioned into a job in manual labor, Grant Memorial AME remained a necessary food source.

“Manual labor – it’s hard,” he said. “Any time you can have a nutritious meal … that helps. You can’t work on an empty stomach.”

Unfortunately, pre-existing knee and back conditions took a toll on Derrick’s body despite his healthy diet, making manual labor a less feasible option. Now retired and receiving disability benefits, Derrick begins a new chapter in his life – and Grant Memorial AME, just as it has in the past 10 years, provides consistent aid amidst change.

“You can’t really go hungry around here,” Derrick said. “They’re (the volunteer staff) like a second family.”

And it’s this neighborhood feel – piano music playing in the background and the universal need for quality food bringing people together – that keeps Derrick coming back week after week, year after year.

“I come here not only because I have to – but because I want to,” he said.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why We Walk


With just two days left until the 29th Annual Hunger Walk, the “Why I Walk” blog series concludes with some of the reasons YOU walk. Thank you for sharing your motivation with us on Facebook and Twitter. We look forward to seeing everyone at the Hunger Walk on Saturday!
  • Lisa: I walk to help those who need it. You never know what curves life will throw your way. One day I, or a friend or family member, may need to utilize a food pantry.
  • Being undernourished should not exist as a roadblock to reaching one's full potential in our society.
  • Rachel: I walk for the individuals and families who need it.
  • Chicago Tribune Community Giving: There are too many people without food. This is a great cause to help others right here in our city.
  • Mae: I walk because I don’t think that in 2014 people should be walking around hungry and homeless every day.
  • Reginald: I’m walking because I appreciate the pantry giving me food!
  • Monique: Stopping hunger motivates me to walk!
  • Nessa: I know that it could be me on the streets, homeless and hungry. For this reason – it keeps me humble.
  • Redeeming Grace Pantry: We walk because together, we can end hunger.
There’s still plenty of time to sign up for the Hunger Walk. Visit chicagosfoodbank.org to register or find more information. To see other entries in the Why I Walk series, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I Walk: Kathy Morris

In anticipation of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 29th Annual Hunger Walk on June 21 at Soldier Field, we’re asking people what motivates them to take a step towards ending hunger. In this entry, Kathy Morris, of St. Ignatius Church Food Pantry in Rogers Park, explains what motivates her to participate in the Hunger Walk.

I’ve been participating in the Hunger Walk for a long time. I think the first time I attended was in 1989 or 1990. That first year, we were hoping to raise enough to afford food to distribute at Christmas. It was a bigger push the next year, and the year after that. Since then, the fundraising we’ve been able to do around the Hunger Walk has just grown and grown, and it’s taught me one thing – people in our community have made a strong commitment to ending hunger.

This year, we expect to raise close to $6,500 from the Hunger Walk. That will help us distribute food all year. So, why I walk is pretty simple: The Hunger Walk essentially feeds the community we serve. It enables us to order all the food we need and make sure that food gets onto the tables of needy families in Rogers Park. Plus, the money we raise at the Hunger Walk frees up other funds during the year that we can use for additional specialized items and programming, including nutrition classes for our clients.

The Hunger Walk doesn’t only afford us the chance to raise funds. It also gives perspective. Operating the pantry, I rarely see all the other people in the Food Depository’s network who are fighting the same fight every day. But when we come together at the Hunger Walk, I see the bigger picture. I realize that the Chicagoland community believes that one day we can end hunger. I can’t do it myself, but when I gather with more than 13,000 of my dearest friends, maybe we can.


The final “Why I Walk” entry next week will feature your motivation! Tell us why you’re walking in the 29th Annual Hunger Walk by using the hashtag #No1ShouldGoHungry on Twitter or Facebook.