Friday, November 21, 2014

The 1 in 5: Making healthy choices

Every day after school, 7-year-old Ja’Mirrah Terry and her 8-year-old sister Ja’Meyah come to the McCormick Tribune Y Kids CafĂ© inside the Oakley Square apartments. In the program, they work on their homework, play games and receive a healthy meal prepared by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The sisters both look forward to the healthy food they receive at the Kids Cafe, which generally includes fruit, a vegetable a sandwich and milk. The nutritious meals are prepared from scratch by staff and students of the Food Depository’s food service job-training program, Chicago’s Community Kitchens.

“We get hummus and healthy stuff that we like here,” said Ja’Mirrah.

“My favorite are the apples,” her sister chimed in.

Because they’re eating healthy in school and at the Kids Cafe, the children’s mother, Aiesha, notices that they’re both more willing to make healthy choices at the grocery store.

“Instead of asking me to buy a bunch of sweet stuff, I’m trying to buy more healthy stuff because that’s what they want,” she said.

For Aiesha, the Kids Cafe is essential. She works in home care and is looking for more hours, but putting food on the table consistently can be a struggle.

“It helps me bridge the gap because I receive SNAP and am working two days a week, but sometimes that’s not enough.”

With the Kids Cafe, she knows her daughters will have a good meal after school.

“It makes sure they have a better, healthier way of life,” she said.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The 1 in 5: Realizing potential


Mihriba Amin, center, distributes fresh produce at the Healthy Kids Market.

On a recent Friday morning, the halls of Lloyd Elementary School in the Hermosa neighborhood should have been quiet and empty.  It was the start of a long weekend and a day off for the students.

Yet, the school was buzzing with activity. A line of laughing, smiling parents surrounded by children enjoying the cool November morning stretched down the sidewalk in front of the school. The families were there for a Healthy Kids Market distribution.

“See that line? It’s a long weekend. People don’t need to be here,” said Mihriba Amin, the program coordinator. “But they’re here because they need the food.”

The Market serves approximately 300 families at a weekly distribution. It is available to families with children in the school.

“The economy has hit this neighborhood hard,” Mihriba said. “Not many of the families here can get fresh produce.”

At the Market, parents were receiving fresh corn, apples, oranges, and cucumbers in addition to shelf stable food like bags of rice and canned items. Mihriba has been managing the program since it started five years ago. She chose Fridays for the distribution to target a specific need in the community.

“Kids have breakfast and lunch at school during the week,” she said. “But what happens on the weekend? Knowing that children will have food on Saturday and Sunday means so much to me.”

Mihriba understands how much the market means to the families, because she once struggled to afford food.

“I know where they’re coming from,” she said. “I know how much many of these families are battling.”

Mihriba and her husband came to the United States from Bosnia when she was 30 years old. She had a degree in agricultural engineering and her husband had a degree in civil engineering. But their degrees did not transfer to the U.S.
Not knowing English and unable to find a job, Mihriba applied for and began receiving SNAP benefits. She started working at a daycare and her husband got a job overnight cleaning at a hotel. Eventually they saved enough to afford a house and were able to get the appropriate credits to transfer their degrees.

Throughout her difficult transition, Mihriba saw the potential in herself and refused to give up. She knows the Healthy Kids Market helps families realize that potential within themselves.

“I did it. I know these families can too,” she said.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The 1 in 5: 'How can you do homework when your stomach is growling?'

Jaylen receives a meal and gets homework done at a Kids Cafe site in North Lawndale.
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.

Seven-year-old Jaylen was happily scribbling away on a piece of lined paper, writing about a trip to Florida he wants to take one day. Despite the chatter of children around him, the second grader was fully focused on his homework assignment.

“My mom and dad want me to do as much homework as I can here,” he said, taking a moment to look up from his paper. “It’s easier to do homework here because when I get hungry I get distracted.”

Every day, Jaylen eats a meal at the Family Focus Lawndale after school program, which receives Kids Cafe meals from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. He’s one of approximately 60 children enrolled in the program, which fills a critical need in the community.

“A lot of these kids probably wouldn’t eat at night if they didn’t get a meal here,” said Roosevelt Smith, the program coordinator.

In North Lawndale, the child poverty rate is 58 percent. And, according to Roosevelt, healthy food options are limited.

“Children don’t get a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables around here,” he said.

That’s why the federally funded Kids Cafe meals are so important. Generally they include a sandwich, fruit and a vegetable.

For Tamika Beverley, the meals her twin 7-year-olds receive at Family Focus are a “godsend.”
“How can they focus when they’re hungry?” she said.

Tamika works full-time at the post office and picks her children up around 5 p.m. In addition to receiving a meal at the program, they get schoolwork done. But for Tamika, the biggest benefit of the program goes back to nutrition.

“How can you do homework when your stomach is growling?” she said. “This knocks the edge off.”

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 chicagosfoodbank.org 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 chicagosfoodbank.org/1in5.

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 chicagosfoodbank.org/1in5.

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 thedonationplate.org 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 chicagosfoodbank.org/HAM to find more ways to get involved.