Friday, September 25, 2015

The 1 in 5: Child Nutrition Reauthorization update

A child eats a meal at a Kids Cafe in Pilsen.
“To me, this is a moral imperative. All children should have the food they need.”

Michele Zurakowski is passionate about feeding children. She’s a Greater Chicago Food Depository Champion Advocate and the executive director of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, a Food Depository partner agency.

“We have to make sure that we feed the children who are going to be the future of our country,” she said.

Michele has been to Washington, D.C. and Springfield a number of times to advocate for children’s programs. Most recently, she attended Lobby Day with the Food Depository in May and went to Washington in March.

In Washington, she was part of a group advocating for a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which funds children’s programs including school breakfast, lunch and summer meal programs, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization is set to expire September 30. Michele knows the impact those programs have, as half of the households the pantry serves includes a child.

“I see people coming to the pantry who are trying to do everything they can to make things right for their family and it’s motivating,” she said. “Without programs like school breakfast and lunch it would be hard for families.”

The U.S. Senate recently postponed a discussion on its version of the bill and the U.S. House has yet to announce plans for a Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill.

In the meantime, the Food Depository is advocating for the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act and the Summer Meals Act. These bills include priorities that could be incorporated into the final Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

If the House and Senate don’t approve a bill by September 30, the deadline to reauthorize the legislation could be extended to October 31.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The 1 in 5: A summer of feeding children

Itzel, Julian and their mother, Blanca, at the Resurrection Project Lunch Bus stop in Pilsen.

Every weekday this summer, just after 1 p.m., the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus pulled up to a church painted with vibrant murals in Pilsen. Some days, nearly 100 children anxiously waited as a daily ritual unfolded.

A volunteer set up a table. A door swung open. A smiling AmeriCorps member begins to distribute the meals and milk. The Lunch Bus has arrived.

Nine-year-old Itzel, her 2-year-old brother Julian and their mother Blanca were there nearly every day this summer.

“Everything is so expensive so this helps,” said Blanca. “We have to keep things tight right now.”

Blanca is currently unemployed, but her husband is working.

“His income just isn’t enough for us,” she said.

The children ate nutritious meals at the Lunch Bus stop, but Itzel’s favorite part about the Lunch Bus isn’t a specific food.

“Just having the lunch is my favorite part,” she said.

Scenes similar to this one occurred at 21 Lunch Bus stops each day this summer. In total, the Lunch Bus distributed approximately 42,900 meals. And, through all the Food Depository’s summer meal programs, 600,000 meals were delivered throughout Cook County – the organization’s largest-ever response to summer hunger.

The Food Depository’s summer hunger response would not be possible without the funding allocated by the Child Nutrition Reauthorization – a federal bill that funds children’s programs throughout the country. This legislation is set to expire at the end of September. Learn how to make a difference at

Friday, August 28, 2015

The 1 in 5: Through a child's eyes

Seven-year-old Skyla eats lunch at the Miguel Barreto Union League Boys & Girls Club in Humboldt Park.
Why is it important for children to have healthy meals? What does it feel like when a child is hungry? Often, parents and teachers answer those questions. But a child’s insight can provide a different perspective. In this 1 in 5 story, children eat lunch and talk about why they think meal programs are important.

It was lunch time at the Miguel Barreto Union League Boys & Girls Club in Humboldt Park. A group of energized children skipped into the lunch room to find a turkey sandwich, apple and milk sitting at each chair. Laughing and talking to friends, the group sat down and began to eat.

“These apples make me really happy!” said 5-year-old Anastasia, proudly displaying a smile missing two baby teeth.

Seven-year-old Miles sat across the room from Anastasia. He was finishing his carton of milk.

“This is important to me because it means I can be healthy,” he said.

Meanwhile, 9-year-old Jose was just finishing his turkey sandwich. He doesn’t like being hungry at school.

“Being hungry at school is bad. If you’re hungry, you’re going to be thinking about the food and getting home,” he said. “We need to have healthy food so we can learn.”

At another table, Paulo, a 4th grader, knows that healthy food is an important part of growing up.

“Having food is good so that you can get strong and have lots of energy,” he said.

Six-year-old Mary Jane had slid under the bench at Paulo’s table. She popped her head up and giggled.

“Food is just good for me!” she exclaimed.

In Cook County, nearly 255,000 children – 1 in 5 – is at risk of hunger. On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization – the program that funds many children’s meal programs in our community – is set to expire. Encourage lawmakers to support these critical programs. Visit to get involved.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The 1 in 5: Summer need in the South Suburbs

Five-year-old Sarah enjoys a chicken salad sandwich at the Lansing Public Library Lunch Bus stop.
Debbie Albrecht stood in front of the Lansing Public Library, her eyes toward the street. The Lunch Bus would be arriving soon.

“I know that children and families are genuinely happy to see the Lunch Bus,” she said. “The demographics of this town have really changed. There’s a lot of need in the South Suburbs.”

Debbie is the director of the Lansing Public Library. She sees the need year-round, but it becomes more prevalent during the summer.

“Over half the children in our school system are receiving free or reduced-price meals,” she said.

The Lunch Bus works to fill the gap when school is out. The library is just one of seven stops the Lunch Bus made throughout the South Suburbs this summer, serving more than 200 children per day on average.

Five-year-old Sarah and 3-year-old Christina were among those children most days. Their grandmother, Luz, brought them to the Lansing Public Library stop as often as possible.

“They enjoy the vegetables and the chicken,” she said. “I love the fact that it’s a healthy lunch. That’s really important and it’s a big help.”

Luz, Sarah and Christina made the Lunch Bus part of their daily summer routine.

“This is what we do,” Luz said. “We come out, bring a blanket to put on the grass and relax. We sort of make it a picnic. They get a great meal and then they go in the library.”

Sarah, who is starting kindergarten this year, was candid about her favorite part of coming to the library.

“The food,” she said. “We like the carrots and the string cheese.”

Not far away, another group of children was receiving meals from the Lunch Bus. Their mother, Margo, looked on.

“This really helps my family,” she said. “It’s important.”

Margo is in school to receive a degree in nursing and only has a year left, but she is currently unemployed. She has been bringing her three children to the Lunch Bus off and on all summer.

“It’s a nutritious lunch that I know they’ll like,” she said.

City of Chicago Lunch bus routes continue until September 4. For more information on the Food Depository’s response to summer hunger, or to find summer meals sites near you, visit

Friday, July 31, 2015

The 1 in 5: Community organizers raise awareness of free summer meals

A door hanger left by COFI community organizers detailing how to access free summer meal programs.
“There are plenty of good people here,” Tara Williams said as she stood on the corner of 63rd St. and Carpenter Ave. in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

Her sentiments are echoed by her fellow community organizers Donna Carpenter, Valerie Carroll and Charlene Campbell. Tara, Donna and Valerie are longtime Englewood residents, and take extra pride in their community organizing efforts in Englewood.

The four women work with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) and spend their days canvassing high-need Chicago neighborhoods to increase awareness of free summer meal programs available for children.

“We go door to door, speaking with people and giving them packets of information about summer meals near them. We’ll also leave door hangers at houses where no one answers, and we hope that they read the information and use it or pass it along to a friend or family member,” said Charlene, a longtime COFI community organizer.
COFI community organizer Charlene Campbell knocks on the door of a home in the Englewood neighborhood.
The need for food assistance among children in Englewood is high. More than 60 percent of children live in poverty, which creates further barriers to a steady and nutritious food supply.

During the summer, COFI community organizers reach out to the community to spread the word about free summer meal sites on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Other COFI community organizers also canvass throughout South Lawndale in Chicago, and in suburban Cicero.

Even with a high number of Englewood residents facing food insecurity, the COFI community organizers are optimistic that their canvassing efforts are bringing a good service to residents everywhere they go.

With the help of summer meals outreach, the Food Depository is on track to serve more than 400,000 meals to children this summer through programs such as the Lunch Bus and a new meal distribution at five Chicago Public Library branches.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The 1 in 5: A book and a meal

Emily Clark and her father, Hillery, play board games at the Back of the Yards library after Emily finished her lunch.
At the library, 4-year-old Emily Clark was sharing some crackers with her shiny green dinosaur. Her father, Hillery, looked on.

“I’ll have to skip a meal sometimes, usually breakfast or lunch, but I really don’t want her to,” Hillery said.

That’s why Hillery brought Emily to the Back of the Yards Branch of the Chicago Public Library. This summer, the Chicago Public Library has partnered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to fight hunger in Cook County by offering free summer meals at five library branches throughout the community.

The partnership addresses a significant need – nearly 255,000 children are at risk of hunger in Cook County. And during the summer, children are at an increased risk of hunger because many no longer receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school.

“When kids are hungry, they can’t learn as well,” said Maggie Clemons, the Back of the Yards Branch Manager. “We have a lot of kids in the community who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school, so these kids are able to eat meals here during the summer.”

For Hillery, the library meals program is an important safety net. He has been taking part-time carpentry jobs, but hasn’t been able to find full-time employment for the last three years. His wife is disabled and cannot work, so their budget is tight.

“I can’t make rent without working right now,” Hillery said. “And we’ve been paying the gas company $100 a month since January, but we still owe them money.”

At the library, children receive nutritious, shelf-stable meals. The Back of the Yards Branch serves approximately 30 meals per day.

“I’m really happy that we’re part of the program,” Maggie said. “It fits well with the library’s mission of strengthening the community and encouraging learning.”

Meanwhile, Emily and her dinosaur have finished lunch and moved on to play dress-up. As she ties a colored scarf around the stuffed animal’s neck, her father smiles.

“She seems to enjoy the program. She’s having fun, so everyone’s happy,” he said.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The 1 in 5: Beyond the meal

Maintaining a consistent, healthy diet is critical for children's development, acording to Dr. Angela Odoms-Young.
For children, food is critical to a healthy life. Meal programs throughout Cook County provide an important source of nutrition support, but their benefits go well beyond a full stomach.

Dr. Angela Odoms-Young, an assistant professor in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition and a Greater Chicago Food Depository board member, has studied the effects of hunger on children.

“Children need healthy food and a healthy diet for normal growth and development,” she said. “Kids who are food insecure often see poor cognitive development.”

A lack of consistent nutrition can cause significant issues for children, such as behavioral problems and reduced academic performance, Angela said.

“We must invest in children’s health early in their lives,” she said. “Good nutrition is associated with positive academic performance and overall better outcomes in kids.”

For children, achieving those results starts at breakfast. But, many children don’t eat breakfast before coming to school, which is why the Food Depository advocates for the expansion of school breakfast.

“Children who eat breakfast have a better dietary quality and there’s also evidence to suggest that breakfast increases cognitive performance throughout the day,” Angela said.

For food insecure children, after school and summer meals at home are not guaranteed. Programs such as the Food Depository’s Kids Cafe make sure children have the food they need after classes are over.

“After-school meals contribute to the overall nutritional adequacy of what kids eat in a day,” Angela said. “They also help families with food stability. They’re a consistent source of support, which helps offset other negative issues children might be experiencing at home.”

Children’s meal programs are federally funded by Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which is set to expire at the end of September. A reduction in funding could have dramatic effects on children’s health, Angela said.

“These programs have helped alleviate child poverty and food insecurity,” she said. “They help fill a gap in society.”

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