Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hunger Action Month activities raise awareness, funds for hunger relief

Whether it was wearing orange, taking the SNAP Challenge, or volunteering, thousands of individuals joined the fight against hunger during Hunger Action Month in September.

Throughout the month, many changed their social media profile pictures to an orange version of the Greater Chicago Food Depository logo, while others donned orange apparel to raise awareness.
The ABC 7 Chicago morning news team joined many others wearing orange to show support for Hunger Action Month.
Food Depository supporters, partners and staff took the SNAP Challenge, which asks participants to eat on $35 of food for a week – the average SNAP benefit for an individual in Illinois. The Challenge highlights the difficult decisions those who struggle with hunger must make every day.

More than 50 city, county, state and federal elected officials and staff volunteered at the Food Depository, packing 6,100 pounds of apples. Overall in September, 2,735 individuals gave of their time at the Food Depository.

Also during the month, generous supporters donated more than $45,000 to the Food Depository’s Hunger Action Month email campaign, which provided more fresh produce to hungry men, women and children in our community.

Regardless of how you took action during Hunger Action Month, thank you for your support. Together, we lifted our voices to proclaim, “no one should go hungry.”

Even though Hunger Action Month is over, there are still numerous ways to get involved. Visit to learn how you can take action in the fight against hunger.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The 1 in 5: Eating healthy, learning better

Dahlia Ocasio and her children receive food from the Healthy Kids Market at Calmeca Academy.
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 and the programs that make an impact on their lives.

Parents cheerfully move through the line at the Calmeca Academy Healthy Kids Market, stopping to chat with the volunteers while their canvas bags fill with bananas, pears, apples, cabbage, pasta and more.

Principal Frances Garcia stands nearby, greeting everyone who comes through the line. She helped start the program at Calmeca, a Chicago Public School in the Brighton Park neighborhood, when the school opened in 2010. Since then, she’s become keenly aware of the need in the community.

“We’re filling a void for a lot of families,” she said. “The majority of families that come to the market are extremely needy.”

Calmeca’s Healthy Kids Market serves approximately 190 families at a weekly distribution. It is available to families with children in the school.

“The market has made a huge contribution to the quality of life for a lot of families in this community who are struggling to make ends meet,” Principal Garcia said.

The Healthy Kids Market is run entirely by parent volunteers and distributes food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It helps ensure children have enough food to eat when they’re not at school.

“Some parents in our community can’t afford produce at all,” said Principal Garcia. “But they’re able to get it here.”

That’s the case for Dahlia Ocasio, who has a 12-year-old, 9-year-old and 5-year-old at the school. She’s currently unemployed but her husband is working full-time. Still, their budget is stretched every month.

“This is really great for my children,” she said. “It helps a lot because we want them to eat healthy so they can learn better.”

Dahlia comes to the market every week.

“There’s no way I would be able to afford fresh fruit if I wasn’t getting it here,” she said.

Not only does the program provide fresh fruit and vegetables to children and families in a community that does not have easy access to them - it is also an excellent way to get parents more involved in their child’s education.

“The market brings parents to the school that we wouldn’t normally see,” Principal Garcia said. “All of a sudden, they start to see the school as a place where they too can learn and grow.”

There are currently 11 Healthy Kids Markets at Chicago Public Schools across the city. The Food Depository intends to expand the program to additional schools in the next year. The Healthy Kids Market at Calmeca Academy is supported by Morgan Stanley’s Healthy Cities, a program that brings together medical care, healthy food and safe opportunities for exercise. 

View this story as a Story Map at

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

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 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 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

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.