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.

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.”

Click here to receive updates on the Food Depository’s advocacy efforts and learn more ways to get involved.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Food Depository and partners launch summer meals program

A young girl enjoys her lunch at the summer meals kickoff event, held at Dunbar Park on June 24, 2015.
The start of summer for most children usually means seemingly endless days, sunshine and plenty of free time to relax and enjoy being a kid. Whether it’s spending a day at the beach, grilling out with family and friends, or anything in between, many children and families in Cook County don’t think about where their next meal will come from. But for many families, this concern is a familiar reality.

To launch Cook County's summer meals program, hundreds of children attended a kickoff event at Dunbar Park on June 24. The event was organized by the Chicago Summer Meals Working Group, which consists of the United States Department of Agriculture, Illinois State Board of Education, Greater Chicago Food Depository, No Kid Hungry Illinois, Chicago Park District, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Archdiocese of Chicago, Catholic Charities, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Schools.

"1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger," said Kate Maehr, Food Depository executive director and CEO. "Together, we can ensure children have enough food to eat."

The event connected parents and guardians with children's summer meal sites in their area. Children also received a free meal and enjoyed festive activities.

Children are at an increased risk of hunger during the summer, when many who receive free or reduced-price school lunches lose an important source of food. Last year, only 14 percent of eligible Illinois children received free summer meals. In order to respond to the need facing these children, the Food Depository plans to operate nearly 300 summer meal sites and distribute more than 400,000 nutritious meals to children.

To find a summer meals site near you, visit summermealsillinois.org, call 1-800-359-2163 or text “FOODIL” to 877877.

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 chicagosfoodbank.org/hungerwalk.

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.