Friday, March 27, 2015

The 1 in 5: Eating breakfast, dancing, living healthy

A student receives breakfast at Beidler Elementary School.
Every Friday, dance music reverberates through the halls of Beidler Elementary School in Chicago’s East Garfield Park community.

“Welcome to Fitness Friday!” a voice booms over the PA system, between tracks. For 10 minutes, students and teachers dance up and down the halls, waving their arms and singing along to the music.

Fitness Friday may seem like pure fun, but for Principal Charles Anderson, the activity is part of a larger commitment to healthy living.

“The students really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a good way to start Fridays, by getting everyone up and moving.”

Another aspect of that commitment to health is a focus on nutrition. To that end, Beidler is part of the National School Breakfast Program, serving meals to nearly 330 students each day.

“You just can’t teach kids if they’re hungry. They can’t focus,” Principal Anderson said.

Breakfast is especially important in East Garfield Park, where the child poverty rate is a stunning 55 percent.

“Many of these students wouldn’t be getting breakfast if they didn’t get it here,” he said.

This is the school’s fourth year as part of the National School Breakfast Program.

“Our scores continue to rise and I think you can attribute that in part to our activities and our breakfast initiative,” he said.

Beidler’s breakfast program encourages a family atmosphere, as students gather in the school’s cafeteria before school to socialize and eat.

“We try to create a culture by making sure kids are eating a healthy breakfast, exercising and having fun,” Principal Anderson said.

According to the most recent school breakfast data, more than 473,000 free and reduced-price breakfasts were served at schools in East Garfield Park in 2013, including approximately 59,000 at Beidler Elementary.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The 1 in 5: A mother's story

Tanya Lee met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to share her WIC success story.

For Tanya Lee, the WIC program was nothing short of life-changing: it helped her break her cycle of poverty.

Tanya grew up in a single-parent household after her father left her mother. Without a steady income, the family ended up living in government subsidized housing.

“It wasn’t a great environment to grow up in,” Tanya said.

When she was 15, Tanya became pregnant with her son, DeAngelo. She was working a part-time job, but was still struggling to make ends meet. Unsure how she was going to feed her son, she turned to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

“The WIC program really allowed me to get on my feet,” she said.

WIC provides nutrition education, counseling and food from pregnancy until the child is five.

“As a young mom who didn’t know a lot about nutrition, the WIC program trained me,” Tanya said.

In addition to being a critical source of nutritious food for her young son – food that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford – the WIC program enabled Tanya to pursue a future she didn’t think was reachable.

“The WIC program allowed me to go to school, to dream bigger,” she said.

Tanya finished high school, and because WIC helped with her grocery budget, she was able to enroll in college.

“My focus was always to feed my kids, but if I didn’t have WIC my education wouldn’t have been as much of a priority,” she said.

Tanya graduated with a double major in social work and criminal justice. She went on to get her master’s degree in 2009. Now, she is a successful non-profit consultant, runs a food pantry, and hopes to open her own social service organization.

She knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without the WIC program’s assistance nearly 30 years ago.

“If the WIC program didn’t exist, I’d probably be in a dead-end job right now. But that’s not the case. The WIC program opened the door for me,” Tanya said.

Tanya recently joined nearly 30 Greater Chicago Food Depository advocates in Washington, D.C. for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, where she told her story to lawmakers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The 1 in 5: Getting a great start

A student at Hillside School eats breakfast in the classroom.
Instead of hanging out with their friends before school every morning, Hillside School 8th-graders Julian and Davarion make sure that their fellow students start their day off right – with breakfast.
They help sort school breakfasts and bring them to each classroom, where the teachers then distribute the meal to students.

“If you have breakfast, your mind is much more active and aware. It really gets you through the day,” Julian said.

Hillside School is in its first year participating in the National School Breakfast Program, which provides schools with meal reimbursements as long as they meet certain need requirements. At Hillside, 78 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Assistant Principal Jennifer McGuire knows the need is significant.

“These kids have a lot to worry about,” Jennifer said. “But at least they don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to eat breakfast.”

Generally, breakfasts include cereal, fruit, juice and milk. Nearly 400 children each day eat breakfast at Hillside.

“Eating breakfast is an important part of the day,” she said. “We want to get students off to a great start, and part of that is making sure they’re getting the nutrition they need.”

Davarion, an 8th-grader at Hillside, helps deliver breakfasts to different classrooms every morning.
For Davarion, eating breakfast is a no-brainer.

“You’d be hungry during the day if you didn’t eat breakfast,” he said.

In 2013, there were 449,000 Illinois students who were eligible for school breakfast but did not receive it. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is a partner in the Rise & Shine Illinois campaign to increase awareness of the benefits of school breakfast and encourage participation in the program.

Hillside School Principal Steve Bogren knows that the breakfast and lunch programs are a crucial line of defense against hunger.

“We know that the students will get a breakfast and lunch while they’re here,” he said. “For some of these kids, if they’re not getting those meals here, they’re not getting them at all.”

February 23 – 27, 2015 is Illinois Breakfast Week. Learn more and pledge your support at

Friday, February 13, 2015

The 1 in 5: Supporting new life

Anayeli and her six-month-old daughter Yuritzy receive assistance at the WIC site in Albany Park.
From the time a child is conceived through its early life, nutrition – for the baby and the mother – is critically important. For those struggling with hunger, accessing the food needed to help ensure a child grows up healthy can be a challenge.

But it doesn’t have to be, and that’s where WIC plays a vital role.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is funded by the federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which also funds other children’s programs. WIC provides vouchers for healthy food, nutrition education, nutrition counseling and more for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, have had a baby in the past six months, or have a child younger than five years old.

In Illinois, there are more than 269,000 women enrolled in the program.

“There’s no other system in place to provide this community-based nutrition and health support. WIC really is the only walk-in public health system at the street level,” said Margaret Saunders, the WIC/Family Case Management Director for the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County – the largest operator of WIC sites in the state.

To be eligible for the program, families must meet income guidelines which equate to approximately 185 percent of the poverty level.

“Many of our clients don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because they’re expensive,” said Stefanie Balvanz, a site supervisor and registered dietitian at a CEDA WIC site in Albany Park. “The vouchers parents receive make those products accessible.”

That’s the case for 25-year-old Anayeli, who had a baby six months ago. She started receiving WIC services during the pregnancy.

“The nutritionists taught me about how I should be eating during the pregnancy, and which vegetables I should give my baby,” she said.

She also receives food vouchers, which enable her to purchase fresh produce, which she otherwise would not be able to afford.

“If WIC wasn’t here, it would be hard for me. It’s helped us a lot.”

Fifty-one percent of all children born in the United States receive WIC support at some point in their first few years of life.

“Our goal is to make sure children get the nutrition they need so they’re school-ready,” Margaret said. “And, we want to give parents the tools they need to be confident and healthy when raising those children.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fighting hunger during winter weather

Every day, the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s fleet of 40 vehicles is on the road, delivering food to our hungry neighbors. And, the challenges of a Chicago winter strengthen our resolve.

“Our drivers make sure that food gets where it needs to be, regardless of the weather,” said Joe Rodriguez, the Food Depository’s Transportation Director.

Winter weather poses unique challenges for the Food Depository’s transportation team, which consists of staff and numerous dedicated volunteers. One of the biggest concerns becomes making sure member agencies are still accessible for deliveries.

“We often make food deliveries in alleys, or using sidewalks,” Joe said. “But in a storm, those areas might not be plowed right away, so our drivers bring shovels and help the agencies clear out the snow so they can receive the food.”

Safety is a top priority year-round for the Food Depository’s transportation team, but during the winter months, it becomes especially important.

“The transportation team meets at six every morning, so when it’s snowing we’re able to communicate what the best routes are going to be before we leave the warehouse and keep everyone updated on road conditions,” Joe said.

For Joe and his team, the bottom line is simple: the need doesn’t stop during the winter, so neither can they.

“No matter if it’s snowing, raining, hot or cold, we’re making sure to get food out into the community, because people are counting on us,” he said.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'These kids are hungry'

Students at Jane Addams Elementary School receive cold and hot breakfasts.

By 8:40 a.m., the usual sounds of children chattering before school in Carla Modugno’s kindergarten class are replaced with the sounds of children eating. This daily transition signals a critical part of the school day: breakfast.

Students at Jane Addams Elementary School in Melrose Park receive breakfast in the classroom – a federally funded program that is supported statewide by Illinois No Kid Hungry and the Illinois State Board of Education.

“There are a lot of kids in our district who are hungry,” said Marisa Raymond, District 89’s Food Service Coordinator. “It’s really heartbreaking to see.”

That’s why the district offers the program, which is considered an alternative service model. Since implementing breakfast in the classroom three years ago, the school consistently sees between 80 and 90 percent student breakfast participation. That’s up from 30 percent participation when Jane Addams was offering the traditional breakfast before school.

Statewide, alternative service models have been shown to increase participation in breakfast programs. But, there’s still work to be done, as there were 449,000 children who were eligible for school breakfasts in 2013 that did not receive them.

“I know that when kids have food in their system, they are more energized, engaged and alert,” Carla said.

Students get to their classrooms by 8:35 a.m., and have 20 minutes to eat before the bell rings and the instructional day begins at 8:55 a.m. Nutritious hot and cold meals, such as cereal or breakfast sandwiches, are served.

“There’s a great need for breakfast in the morning here,” said Jane Addams Principal Frank Mikl. 

“Not only does breakfast in the classroom give kids access to a nutritious meal, it also increases academic performance and gets students into school on time – because they don’t want to miss the meal.”

The child poverty rate in Melrose Park is 20 percent. Many of the children come from families with parents who are working and barely making enough money to afford food. Others struggle more, Marisa said.

“Last year, I saw a little girl going around the lunch room collecting fruit cups from the kids who weren't eating them because she was hungry. That’s why we do school breakfast,” Marisa said.

On Sept. 30, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization will expire, putting children’s meal programs – like school breakfast – at risk. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is a statewide partner in the Rise and Shine Illinois campaign, which aims to increase participation in Illinois school breakfast. 

Read more stories about the impact of children’s programs at

Monday, January 19, 2015

1 City, 1 Food Drive collects 1.3 million meals

The Union Station food drive collected nearly 15,000 pounds of food in less than 24 hours.

Throughout November and December, the Food Depository’s 1 City, 1 Food Drive campaign united more than 500 food drives with 250 public donation locations across Cook County. This year’s campaign collected more than 1.3 million meals for hungry men, women and children in our community.

Some of the highlights from this year’s campaign included the Union Station Food Drive, which collected more than 14,800 pounds of food in less than 24 hours. Commuters were given food drive bags and asked to return them full of shelf-stable groceries the following morning. Another highlight was the food drive celebration at the Merchandise Mart in late November, which brought together Food Depository supporters, volunteers, staff and donors to proclaim to Chicago that no one should go hungry.

In addition to physical food drives, virtual food drives were an important part of the 1 City, 1 Food Drive effort. The top virtual drive was Morningstar, which collected more than $76,000, the equivalent of 228,377 meals. Overall, there were nearly 400 virtual food drives throughout November and December, which collected a total of $216,000.

Thank you to everyone who volunteered, participated in a food drive, or started a food drive this holiday season. You made a lasting impact on hunger in our community. And, thank you to our key food drive partners, including the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, Boy Scouts of America Chicago Area Council, Chicago Bulls, City of Chicago, Fox Chicago, InterPark, ISSA Family Foundation and Life Time Fitness Turkey Day 5K.

Food drives are critical during the holidays, but are needed year-round. Start one now.