Friday, October 7, 2016

Food banks unite to recover from historic floods

Food Depository warehouse worker Shane Lanning serves hot meals in Baton Rouge to people affected by flooding.
In August, historic flooding hit Louisiana. The state endured a crippling deluge unseen in the United States since Hurricane Sandy – in just days, Southern Louisiana received nearly 30 inches of rain. More than 60,000 homes were destroyed, leaving 11,000 people homeless.

Food banks across the nation responded. Staff came together to assist with disaster relief and to support the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, whose warehouse was flooded with 4 feet of water. Feeding America, the national network of food banks, coordinates disaster response among members. When Feeding America puts out the call for help, food banks throughout the country step up to provide product, equipment, staff, and technical expertise to address the needs that follow a natural disaster.

“We got the call asking for assistance in Louisiana and we had staff in a truck on the road less than 48 hours later,” said Sheila Creghin, vice president of operations for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

In that truck were Food Depository employees Shane Lanning and Jose DeSantiago.

“When we pulled off the interstate in Louisiana, all I could think was, ‘wow.’ For miles, people’s belongings were out in trash piles in their front yards. There was soaked garbage everywhere,” said Shane, a Food Depository warehouse worker.

With the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank underwater, Shane and Jose were directed to drive to New Orleans. They worked with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans, alongside staff from other food banks across the region, to respond to the disaster.

“People were definitely happy to see us,” Jose said. “Some of the food bank staff had been working 18 days straight when we arrived.”

Jose and Shane helped in every way they could. Jose, a Food Depository truck driver, did disaster relief deliveries. He made the two hour trip from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to get food and essential supplies like bottled water to people displaced by the flooding. Meanwhile, with many of Second Harvest’s regular warehouse staff busy with disaster response, Shane helped prepare and load food so that deliveries to the food bank’s partner agencies wouldn’t be delayed.

While serving hot meals in Baton Rouge, Shane and Jose had the chance to meet some of the people affected by the floods.

“One family that was there for a meal had been staying in a motel. The water kept rising and they eventually had to be rescued by a boat. They lost everything,” Jose said.

Shane and Jose were in Louisiana for two weeks, with two days of travel each way. Without hesitation, they both said they’d make the trip again.

"We were a thousand miles away from home, but we came to help. And we did," Shane said.

Friday, August 26, 2016

31 years of fighting hunger: Food Depository's longest-tenured employee to retire

Thank you Gloria for your 31 years of service to hungry men, women and children in our community.
When Gloria Scott started working full-time at the Greater Chicago Food Depository in 1985, the organization was only six years old. It distributed 19.3 million pounds of food that year, and had just settled into the 91,000 square foot warehouse at 4501 S. Tripp Avenue.

Thirty-one years later, Gloria will say goodbye to a much larger Food Depository, as she begins her retirement.

“This has been beyond just a job,” she said. “Working at the Food Depository has meant so much to me. I’ve learned so much from my coworkers and from the agencies. We’ve become a family.”

As impressive as her 31-year tenure is, Gloria has actually been with the organization for 34 years. She volunteered in the warehouse sorting food and then as an order checker for three years before being hired to work in inventory control.

"Gloria's warmth, optimism and unwavering dedication to our mission over the past three decades is incredibly inspiring," said Kate Maehr, Food Depository executive director and CEO. "She's made a lasting impact on hunger in our community, and for that we are truly grateful."

In her current role, Gloria processes agency food orders, responds to agency questions and makes sure agency food pickups run smoothly. She’s always had a passion for helping out.

“Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always cared for this type of work,” she said. “I just love reaching out in whatever way I can. I always want to be able to help people.”

Her dedication to fighting hunger extends beyond the workplace. In her spare time, she runs a food pantry in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, which she will continue to manage in retirement.

“There’s a greater need now than ever before,” she said. “I see it at my pantry and at work. More and more people are turning to agencies for help.”

Eventually, she’ll be moving to Michigan to be closer to her daughter. But until she does, she’s looking forward to expanding the services of her pantry. She’d like to offer clients exercise tips and teach them how to crochet.

Gloria, second from left, looks on as former Food Depository executive director Mike Mulqueen talks to staff at a meeting in the early 1990's.
Looking back, Gloria never expected to be in one place so long.

“During those years I was just volunteering at the Food Depository, I never dreamed I’d work here - let alone this long. Now that I’ve been through it, it was definitely worth the stay,” she says, laughing.

And after 31 years, she’s retiring with the same passion she had for the cause in 1985.

“It feels great to be in one job with a mission and to be able to accomplish that every day,” she said. “If I helped even one person, I know my time at the Food Depository was worth it.”

Friday, August 19, 2016

School breakfast expands to 175,000 Illinois students

The effective "Breakfast After the Bell" model for school breakfast programs will expand to more than 175,000 additional children in Illinois thanks to a bill that was signed into law today. SB 2393 unanimously passed the Illinois House and Senate this spring.

With one in five children in Illinois at risk of hunger, there is a substantial need for school breakfast. Children who eat breakfast are better able to learn and focus. The state currently ranks 42nd out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in providing breakfast to children at school.

Thanks to the new law, breakfast will be an official part of the school day in low-income schools, guaranteeing that every student has access to the healthy food they need to learn. Incorporating breakfast into the school day removes barriers that children face, such as transportation challenges and the stigma associated with receiving free and reduced-price meals. The new requirement takes effect on January 1, 2017.

“Illinois children have such incredible potential, but hunger stifles that potential. In order to grow up healthy and excel in the classroom, children need to eat breakfast,” said Kate Maehr, co-chair of the Illinois Commission to End Hunger and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “This new law makes breakfast accessible to more kids in our state and provides them the nourishment they need to succeed.”

Starting the day with a nutritious breakfast makes a measurable impact on children's ability to learn: for example, kids who eat breakfast score 17% higher on standardized math tests, according to research from Feeding America.

“Monday mornings can be hard for some children, especially if they start the day hungry after a weekend of inconsistent food sources. This new legislation will go a long way in providing a nourishing breakfast for the children of Illinois,” said Tom Browning, co-chair of the Illinois No Kid Hungry Working Group and Director, Childhood Nutrition & Wellness at Illinois Action for Children.

A statewide coalition of organizations advocated for the Breakfast After the Bell legislation, including Bread for the World, COFI, Catholic Charities, Central Illinois Foodbank, Eastern Illinois Foodbank, EverThrive Illinois, Feeding America, Feeding Illinois, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Heartland Alliance, Hope Response Coalition, Illinois Action for Children, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Illinois Migrant Council, Illinois Public Health Institute, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, Northern Illinois Food Bank, the Ounce of Prevention, River Bend Foodbank, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, St. Louis Area Foodbank , Tri-State Food Bank, Voices for Illinois Children and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Uniting Fresh Food and Clinical Care: FRESH Truck at Oak Forest Health Center

The latest addition to the partnership between Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) and the Greater Chicago Food Depository is the FRESH Truck mobile produce distribution at Oak Forest Health Center. On Thursday morning, patients received food vouchers from their doctors for a visit to the FRESH Truck. As they walked through the truck, volunteers provided assistance with selecting a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including melons, celery, potatoes, onions, and cabbage. More than 125 clients took home produce.

Doctors and patients agree that this nutritious, accessible food can lead to better health outcomes for people with chronic diseases. Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezike sees many patients with lifestyle-related conditions like diabetes and hypertension in his practice at Oak Forest Health Center. “Many of the patients don’t have the option to find healthy, good quality food,” he says. “The program will benefit patients not only by giving them better food, but also by encouraging them to keep their appointments with our clinic.”

As part of the partnership between the Food Depository and CCHHS, Dr. Ezike and his colleagues now screen their patients for food insecurity. Most patients have been receptive, he says: many mention related challenges, such as lack of access to transportation. Bringing the FRESH Truck to a convenient site like the health center addresses some of these barriers. The Oak Forest Health Center also informs patients who are food insecure about nearby food pantries available to them.

Donnel Jones with produce from the FRESH Truck
One patient, Donnel Jones, walked off the FRESH Truck with three bags of vegetables. “It came in handy,” he says. He learned about the FRESH Truck when he received greens and kale from the Oak Forest Health Center’s community garden recently, along with a voucher for the upcoming FRESH Truck distribution. “I love cooking – I learned that from my mom,” he recalls. Donnel would love to include more fresh produce in his diet, but it can be a challenge to afford these items. His SNAP benefits have been reduced by more than half, and the $80 in assistance he receives each month doesn’t go far at a grocery store. Being able to prepare fresh greens and vegetables makes a substantial difference in his diet.

Dr. John Jay Shannon, CEO of Cook County Health and Hospitals System, was at Oak Forest to see the FRESH Truck in action. He anticipates a broader impact for the culture of the health center: “It goes beyond material clinical care. It gets clinicians thinking about the community that we serve,” Dr. Shannon said. He notes that “there’s been a marked suburbanization of poverty.” The partnership between CCHHS and the Food Depository represents a key opportunity to address food insecurity throughout the county while educating both patients and their doctors about the impact of healthy food. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Summer meals offer nutrition for kids and teens

Children eat lunch outside the McKinley Library
On a sunny June afternoon, children come running down the sidewalk behind McKinley Library on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Each kid walks away with a boxed meal from the Lunch Bus, including nutritious food like raisins, whole-grain Goldfish crackers, milk, and applesauce. Once the school year is out, these meals fulfill a crucial need, feeding children who count on free and reduced-price lunches at school.

Summer can be a challenging time for low-income families who struggle to afford food and childcare. The Summer Food Service Program ensures that children still have access to nourishing meals. Since 1968, the USDA has funded the Summer Food Service Program with a grant to state agencies, who reimburse community organizations like the Greater Chicago Food Depository to deliver the meals where they are needed most. This summer, the Food Depository expects to serve more than 600,000 meals at more than 300 sites.

Lunch Buses travel throughout the city and south suburbs all summer, transporting meals to easily accessible neighborhood sites every weekday. Find the full Lunch Bus route here. Since these meals are only available to children and teens 18 and under, interns and volunteers also help adults find food pantries by distributing informational flyers.

Joe has volunteered as a Lunch Bus driver for the past three years.  His reason for volunteering is simple: “It makes you feel good.” At the McKinley Library, he works with Christian, a Food Depository AmeriCorps intern, to distribute more than 75 meals in 20 minutes. Children eat their lunches in a small park beside the library, while parents enjoy an opportunity for outdoor time with their kids.

Christian and Joe with the Lunch Bus

Christian is spending his second summer as an intern on the Lunch Bus. “Seeing the kids’ faces every day is my favorite part,” he says. “It’s really humbling.” Christian answers parents’ questions about the program in English and Spanish and tracks the number of meals served at each site.

From the library, the Lunch Bus proceeds to St. Pancratius church in Brighton Park. After receiving their lunches, children line up to receive free age-appropriate books from Bernie’s Book Bank.  By distributing books alongside the Lunch Bus, Bernie’s Book Bank supports literacy for children in need. Children express their excitement and gratitude for both the books and the meals.

Although the Lunch Bus serves thousands of meals, an unmet need remains: only 14 percent of children who receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year utilize summer meals. Families in need of summer meals can find their nearest site by texting FOODIL to 877877, calling 800-359-2163, or visiting to locate meal sites.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chicago's largest anti-hunger rally takes place June 25th

With summer in full swing, the 31st Annual Hunger Walk is just around the corner. Here’s what to expect in Jackson Park on the morning of June 25th.

The Hunger Walk is an annual two-mile walk along the lakefront. Proceeds benefit the Food Depository’s partner agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters throughout Cook County. Funds raised during Hunger Walk support these agencies’ operations throughout the year, ensuring that they can provide nutritious food to children, families, and individuals in need.

For some agencies, the funds raised at Hunger Walk cover all their operating expenses for the entire year. One such agency is featured at the beginning of the short video above, illustrating why a few individuals plan to participate in Hunger Walk. “It’s not only food, but also our equipment for our pantry we’re able to purchase with the funds from Hunger Walk,” says Marva Hines-Brown, who coordinates the food pantry at Covenant United Church of Christ in the southern suburb of South Holland.

Live entertainment from local performers enlivens the Hunger Walk. From the inspirational R&B of fourteen-year-old Lyr!c to the house and dance music of Jameisha Trice and Dana Devine, the morning’s performers will offer a variety of upbeat sounds to kick off the day. Additional performers include T Star and the Evanston School of Rock House Band.

A children’s tent provides activities for the youngest Hunger Walk participants, including face painting. Participants are welcome to continue the fun with barbecues and picnics in the park: a designated grilling area will be available along the course. Sponsor tents will also be present, offering giveaways and information from the Hunger Walk’s premier sponsors: ABC7 Chicago, ConAgra Foods, Griffith Foods, Jewel-Osco, Kraft Heinz Company, and Tyson Foods.

Registration for Hunger Walk opens at 7 a.m., with the walk starting at 8:30 a.m. Join us at Chicago’s largest anti-hunger rally, or make a contribution to support a participating team. Learn more at

Monday, June 13, 2016

Record high audit score demonstrates a commitment to food safety

The Food Depository's warehouse meets stringent standards for food safety.
Food safety is a priority for the Greater Chicago Food Depository team. As part of this commitment to ensuring that the food we distribute is safe, the Food Depository undergoes a rigorous annual assessment: the Distribution Center Food Safety and Quality Systems Audit, administered by Merieux NutriSciences.

“We strive to be leaders in food safety, excelling beyond the status quo,” says Michael Goss, Manager of Food Safety. While the Food Depository has consistently scored above 98% on this assessment, this year set a new record. The Food Depository achieved a score of 99.1% on the food safety audit, its highest score ever.

This year, the audit requirements were significantly revised, increasing the challenge for the Food Depository team. In a short amount of time, they conducted a hazard analysis, reviewing every process in the warehouse and documenting how they control and eliminate all hazards.  Some of the crucial programs that are used to control hazards include employee training, warehouse best practices, temperature control, and vendor approval procedures.

Preparation for the food safety audit involved a coordinated effort for staff. With over 200,000 square feet of warehouse space, the Food Depository facility contains an ever-changing variety of shelf-stable and fresh food.  Both the facility and documentation are covered in the audit, which comprises a 470-point evaluation. Every element of the operation, from equipment to sanitation to pest control and more, is included in the audit.

According to Michael Goss, the outstanding success on the food safety audit goes beyond a checklist of best practices: it’s part of the culture. “Food safety culture really became the focus,” he says. “There was a lot of ongoing training and support. The entire organization really embraced the culture and it made a difference. Everybody really cares and works as a team.”

Sheila Creghin, Vice President of Operations, agrees that the team’s united effort made the difference: “The audit results represent the dedicated commitment of our great team day in and day out to ensure the food we distribute to our partner agencies in our community is safe for the clients we serve.”

Congratulations to the Food Depository team on ensuring safe and wholesome food for the community!