Friday, June 19, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'It's a good thing for the community'

AmeriCorps intern Lorianna Anderson distributes a fresh meal from the Lunch Bus to a child in south suburban Lansing, Ill.
For many schoolchildren, lunch and recess are often the highlights of the day, where they can enjoy their lunches, visit with their friends, and run around outside before returning to the classroom.

But what happens when the school year ends and most children stop receiving school lunches?

In far south suburban communities like Riverdale, Lansing and Calumet City, the answer to that question is sobering.

“The Lunch Bus is a good thing for this community, especially for Riverdale,” said Deasayn Dodd, a summer camp counselor with the park district in Riverdale, Illinois.

With a child poverty rate of 32.5 percent in Riverdale alone, programs like the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus are essential to addressing the issue of food insecurity in the community. The Lunch Bus program runs three routes throughout Cook County, distributing fresh, pre-packaged lunches at 21 sites per day.

In nearby Calumet City, the situation is not much different. As the Lunch Bus pulls into Downey Park just past 11 a.m., several children are already eagerly waiting near the covered pavilion, anxious for their lunches. Twelve year-old Tramayne is one of those children.

“I really like it. It’s free, healthy and delicious!” said Tramayne.

With 1 in 5 children throughout Cook County facing food insecurity, situations like Tramayne’s are common. Because schools are closed for summer break, most children who normally receive free or reduced-price school lunches during the year no longer do. To address this issue, programs like the Lunch Bus ensure that children like Tramayne have continuous access to healthy meals, giving them more time to be kids and enjoy every moment of the summer.

The Food Depository is aiming to serve more than 400,000 healthy meals at 250 meal sites this summer through its children's programs, including the Lunch Bus.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Chicago food pantry continues march against hunger

Corwin Marbly, Sr. supervises the setup of the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry.
Standing tall and smiling at 90 years old, Corwin Marbly has seen a lot of change in his lifetime. However, there is one thing that Corwin has not seen change in his many years: the need for food assistance in his community.

A longtime resident of Chicago’s Near North Side, Corwin has been active in the fight against hunger for more than 30 years, coordinating the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry and participating in every Hunger Walk since the event first began in 1986.

The Hunger Walk is an annual 5K along the lakefront that benefits local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. The funds agencies raise at the Hunger Walk help them operate throughout the year. Corwin and the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry rely on their fundraising efforts from the Hunger Walk to serve a changing need in the community.

“Hunger Walk was a lifesaver. The money we raised helped us get through the year,” Corwin recalled about his food pantry’s annual attendance at the event.

Corwin helped to establish the food pantry in 1973, and he continues to run the program every week after more than 40 years.

“Within six months [of opening], we had people coming in like crazy,” Corwin recalled while supervising the food pantry setup early one Tuesday morning.

Despite the drastic change throughout the Near North Side in recent years, the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry continues to serve a high level of need in the community today, serving approximately 215 families per month. The food insecurity rate in the neighborhood is nearly 15 percent, which means that 15 percent of residents do not know when or from where their next meal will come.

“This church here is a symbol to the people in need,” Corwin said when asked how the food pantry continues to provide a vital service to local residents each week.

Even in retirement, Corwin remains passionate and determined to end hunger in his community. This motivation is why he and a team of volunteers from St. Matthew Child Advocate still participate in Hunger Walk every year and continue to operate their food pantry every Tuesday morning.

Register for the Hunger Walk at

Friday, June 5, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'There's a real need here'

Children eat a meal at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in Evanston.
On a quiet, tree-lined street in Evanston, children laughed and played on a swing set in front of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. The afternoon summer sun warmed the air as kids zoomed down slides and frolicked in the grass.

Inside the center, a meal was being prepared for the children. If it weren’t for that meal, many might not be eating dinner at home.

“You can’t even imagine how much these kids need this,” said Martin Mancere, the program coordinator. He was busy putting sandwiches, sweet potatoes and cartons of milk on trays as the kids came in from the playground.

“A lot of these kids don’t go home to quality, nutritious food like we provide them,” Martin said.

The community center is one of three meal programs sponsored by the City of Evanston and reimbursed through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Students can enroll in the program, but drop-ins are also welcome. The center serves approximately 50 children per day.

“There’s a real need here,” said Betsy Jenkins, the center director. “There’s poverty all over, including in Evanston, and kids need the food.”

The City of Evanston is one of many CACFP sponsors throughout Cook County. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is also a sponsor of CACFP sites, called Kids Cafes.

During the summer, the site serves breakfast as part of the national Summer Food Service Program, which is intended to fill the gap for food insecure children who are no longer receiving free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school.

“If we can give these kids something substantial to help fill their stomachs, we are doing our job,” Betsy said.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'They don't get breakfast at home'

Students eat breakfast at Caroline Sibley Elementary School in Calumet City. The school serves meals to approximately 650 students each day.

Three years ago, staff at Caroline Sibley Elementary School in Calumet City instituted the National School Breakfast Program after arriving at a disheartening realization.

“Our kids are hungry.”

1 in 3 children in Calumet City is at risk of hunger. Shelly Davis-Jones, the superintendent of District 149, knows that reality perhaps better than anyone.

“I do a lot of home visits to talk to parents and check in on kids,” she said. “Our kids aren’t eating. Food is scarce. I’ve seen refrigerators with nothing in them.”

In many households, healthy options are limited.

“These kids rely on meals at school,” Shelly said.

The school breakfast program offers breakfast before school and breakfast in the classroom. The program serves approximately 650 students per day, or 81 percent of the school’s eligible students, which is well over the state’s target participation rate of 70 percent.

“For many of these students, breakfast on a Monday is the first substantial meal that these children are getting in two days,” Shelly said. “They look forward to coming in because they don’t get breakfast at home.”

The benefits of breakfast before school are easy to see, especially for the teachers who are with the students all day.

“Before we had breakfast in the classroom, you’d have kids coming in each morning crying or putting their heads down because their stomach hurt,” said Suzette Ojermark, a third-grade teacher at the school. “With breakfast here, they’re getting something they wouldn’t normally get.”

But, it’s not just teachers that are speaking up about the importance of breakfast. When the school made the transition to the program three years ago, it was the students who helped lead the charge, giving a presentation about the importance of the program to the district’s Board of Education.

Their message was simple, according to Shelly.

“Breakfast is so important to getting the brain going,” she said. “How can you focus on an empty stomach?”

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Food Depository prepares response to summer hunger

The Lunch Bus distributes meals to children during the summer at 21 stops throughout Cook County. The program is just one way the Food Depository is addressing summer hunger.

For children, hunger does not end during the summer.

Amanda Yepez is the Kids Cafe coordinator at Casa Juan Diego, a Greater Chicago Food Depository program in Pilsen. During the school year, her site serves meals to more than 50 children. During the summer, that number practically doubles.

“We want to make sure that children have a meal and a place to go,” Amanda said. “We know there’s a need here. Many of these families are struggling to survive.”

Ricardo Marines, Casa Juan Diego’s assistant director, knows that many children struggle to access food when school is out.

“Summer isn’t fun and games for all children. Some wake up hungry without a meal at school,” he said.

During the school year, many children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school. But in the summer, only 14 percent of eligible children in Illinois utilize free meals.

This summer, the Food Depository will sponsor approximately 300 summer meal sites, including Kids Cafes, the Lunch Bus and the Department of Family and Support Service’s Summer Nutrition Program. Through those programs, the Food Depository aims to distribute more than 400,000 meals this summer.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The 1 in 5: A meal, homework and a puppet show

Kids Cafes distribute healthy meals to children, such as this whole wheat pasta salad, fruit cup and milk at the Lakeview YMCA.

On a recent Thursday, an impromptu puppet show was breaking out at the Lakeview YMCA in Chicago. The stage – a sheet of cardboard with a square cut out of the middle – was set up on two chairs. A group of children anxiously huddled around the front, playfully giggling and waiting for the show to begin. Two more crouched behind the cardboard, controlling the puppets – paper cut outs on popsicle sticks. The stick figures appeared, and the children cheered with delight.

This scene is not uncommon at the Lakeview YMCA. Children play basketball, do homework and socialize – the program coordinators know it’s important for them to work and play together. But just as important is the meal that the Lakeview YMCA – a Greater Chicago Food Depository Kids Cafe site – provides after school.

“I know we have families who rely on these meals,” said Lily Smith Richards, the Lakeview YMCA’s Youth and Family Manager.

The site serves meals to approximately 40 children per day, ages 5 to 13. Most families with children enrolled in the program include at least one parent who is working, Lilly said.

“I know that the Kids Cafe is important to a lot of these families,” she said.

Lily knows one of the most crucial aspects of the program is access to healthy food, which she sees the direct benefits of.

“The quality of food they get is important,” she said. “I can see that the kids’ mental capacity is a lot better after they’ve eaten. They’re more ready to do homework and concentrate.”

Programs like the Kids Cafe are part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which is funded by the federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which is slated to expire in September. With 1 in 5 children at risk of hunger in Cook County, the Act’s funding for these programs must be protected. For more stories about the impact of children’s programs, visit

'We lifted our voices and lawmakers were listening'

Advocates gather in front of the Illinois State Capitol on Lobby Day in Springfield.
The morning sun glinted off the Illinois State Capitol dome in Springfield as a growing sea of anti-hunger advocates in blue shirts gathered below. Busload after busload, their numbers swelled to more than 250. Packed beneath the bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln on the Capitol’s steps, a chant began.

“End hunger now!”

That was the start of Lobby Day, an annual event that gathers advocates from the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations from across Illinois in Springfield to discuss the issue of hunger with lawmakers.

This year, advocates encouraged legislators to improve children’s access to School Breakfast by co-sponsoring and supporting the 2015 School Breakfast resolution, which promotes alternative breakfast models. They also asked lawmakers to support SB 1847, which would increase SNAP eligibility by raising income limits. And, advocates suggested elected officials promote summer meals and visit a child nutrition site.

“The energy was great at Hunger Summit and Lobby Day,” said Sarah Greenberg, the program and community outreach manager at a Food Depository member agency in Uptown. “I felt like we lifted our voices and lawmakers were listening.”

Scott Best, the coordinator at Common Pantry in the North Center neighborhood, called the conference "motivating and inspiring."

"Any time we can make a big splash with a large group of people, I feel like that will stick in lawmakers' heads. It will make the issue more memorable for them," he said.

In total, the group met with more than 90 lawmakers in less than two hours. In addition to the Hunger Summit and Lobby Day, Food Depository advocates annually attend the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

Check out photos from the trips to Springfield and Washington, D.C., learn more about the Food Depository's advocacy agenda and watch a video recap of the trips at