Thursday, December 22, 2011

Support the Food Depository’s restaurant partners this holiday season

The Greater Chicago Food Depository is thankful for our dedicated restaurant partners. Through food drives, fundraising promotions or participation in the Food Depository’s annual 86 Hunger Dinner Series, these restaurants have shown their dedication to the Food Depository’s mission of ending hunger in our community.

Whether you are celebrating this holiday season with friends or family, consider dining at these restaurants that have given back to our community and helped the Food Depository put nutritious food on the tables of hungry men, women and children across Cook County.

Thank you to:

Boka
Bonsoirée
Brunch
Custom House Tavern
GT Fish & Oyster
NAHA
Primehouse
The Publican
Ruxbin
Spiaggia
West Town Tavern
Wisma

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sen. Durbin visits Food Depository to discuss need, proposed cuts

This morning, Sen. Durbin took time out of his busy schedule to join Greater Chicago Food Depository staff for a round-table discussion about the need in Cook County and the significant effects of proposed cuts to key safety net programs in 2012.

Sen. Durbin, a longtime supporter of the food bank, shared his perspective on Congress's proposed cuts to critical programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP, also known as USDA commodities).

"We need to cut spending," Sen. Durbin said. "But let's be careful. We need to have good sense about good cuts and bad cuts and cutting SNAP and TEFAP is not good for America."

Check out some photos from Sen. Durbin's visit, and log on to the Food Depository's Advocacy Center to learn more about key policy issues affecting hunger relief.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kate Maehr testifies before City Council


The Food Depository's executive director and CEO, Kate Maehr, testified before a Joint Committee of City Council today. The hearing was held to discuss a resolution on food insecurity in Chicago introduced by Ald. Ameya Pawar. Below is the complete text of Kate's testimony:  

Joint Committee Meeting of Chicago City Council

December 19, 2011
Committee on Health & Environmental Protection (Chairman George Cardenas)
Committee Economic, Capital & Technology Development (Chairman Tom Tunney)
Resolution introduced by Ald. Ameya Pawar

Testimony by Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO, Greater Chicago Food Depository

Thank you to Alderman Pawar, Alderman Burke, Alderman Cardenas, Alderman Tunney and all aldermen who are present for making this conversation possible. I’m Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Chicago’s food bank. The mission of the Food Depository is to provide food for hungry people while striving to end hunger in our community. The Food Depository distributes donated and purchased food to a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Cook County. Last year, the Food Depository distributed 69 million pounds of food. For 32 years, we have provided fresh, nutritious food to people in need in every neighborhood in Chicago.

I’d like to begin by sharing a story that is typical during these tough times. A few months ago, a single father of two, David, walked into a community center on the South Side. David didn’t know what to expect when he walked in; after all he only had heard about the Food Depository’s program at the center from a flyer. His work hours were recently cut, and he needed food to feed his two young children. Guided by a Food Depository outreach worker, David soon learned of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), and that he might be eligible for help. He also learned that there was a fresh source of free, wholesome food close to home, at a nearby Mobile Pantry stop. For David, the safety net worked beautifully.

This story illustrates how our web of supports can ensure that those who are hungry can have the food they need for them and their family. Unfortunately, the need right now is as high as it has ever been, and the safety net is not able to adequately meet that need.

The United States Department of Agriculture uses the term food insecurity to describe the lack of access to nutritious food in communities across the country. According to the USDA, people experiencing low food security report reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet. People experiencing very low food security, according to the USDA, report multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

Earlier this year, the Food Depository worked with University of Illinois researcher Craig Gundersen and Feeding America, the nation’s network of food banks, to study food insecurity in each of Chicago’s 77 community areas. In September, we released data that shows that every community area in our city has individuals and families that are impacted. Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Austin, Ravenswood, South Shore, Norwood Park – all of these communities have need.
According to our analysis, one in five individuals in Chicago is experiencing food insecurity, meaning they are uncertain where their next meal may come from. This number translates into more than 580,000 residents of our city being vulnerable.

We are very pleased that the City of Chicago has recognized the importance of working towards ending hunger in both words and action, whether it is the City’s partnership on this year’s One City, One Food Drive, its regular support for emergency food provisions through the Department of Family and Support Services, the inclusion of access to affordable, healthy food in the Healthy Chicago plan, the establishment of Universal Breakfast in the Classroom in elementary schools or the focus on communities that currently have limited retail access to fresh foods.

We know that aldermen, including many of you in this room, are addressing hunger in your communities by holding food drives, working with community partners and volunteering to ensure that food is distributed to those in need. All of these efforts complement the Food Depository’s work to improve public health, and, ultimately, end hunger--distributing healthy foods to those who can least afford it, and working on fundamental solutions that help ensure no one is hungry in the first place.

We’re so pleased that food deserts have been a topic of conversation in Chicago in recent months. Food deserts are complex problems. The barriers to quality food are not only geographical, but also related to unemployment, low incomes and the expense of acquiring healthy food items. At the Food Depository, we’ve strengthened our commitment to distributing fruit and vegetables so that everyone in our community has access to fresh, healthy food, last year distributing more than 18 million pounds of fresh produce.

For example, in Austin, we distributed 552,000 pounds of produce as one response to the compounded effects of geography and limited income. In North Lawndale, we distributed 685,000 pounds of produce, in East Garfield Park, 522,000 pounds and in Englewood, 506,000 pounds.
Unfortunately, our task has been getting harder. While the number of individuals visiting food pantries has risen dramatically – more than 57 percent in the last three years – the food we need to feed those in need has only gotten more scarce. The latest U.S. Conference of Mayors report on Hunger and Homelessness, released last week, shows that not only Chicago but cities across the nation are struggling with these issues.

Global food prices are near an all-time high. With rising food prices, we have seen three compounding effects. First, a family’s budget is not stretching as far as it once did – whether that budget relies on earned income, SNAP, or , for a growing number of families, both. These factors require more people to visit a pantry. Second, federal commodities that we receive through The Emergency Food Assistance Program( or TEFAP) have diminished as prices have risen. Consequently, while federal funding level s for TEFAP have not gone down, we are receiving 40 to 50 percent  less food from this program this year. Third, the dollars the Food Depository uses to purchase food do not stretch as far either, making it more difficult to fill the gap.

There are specific things that can be done by and in conjunction with the City Council and the city as a whole to address this problem:

Increase SNAP Outreach –
SNAPprovides real resources that allow struggling families to buy food. The Food Depository has a team of staff that works every day to enroll households in the program. As the city works with retailers to open new stores in food deserts, a complementary SNAP Outreach effort should be put in place to ensure that the families that use the new store have the financial resources to do so.
Increase Food Rescue – When a food retailer has excess product that cannot be sold to the public, but is still useable, it should go to those in need. A number of Chicago’s food retailers already engage in food rescue efforts either with the Food Depository or directly with food pantries, but not all. Efforts should be made to bring others online to increase the food available through this resource.

Actively and vocally stand up for federal food programs –
SNAP and other critical food and nutrition programs are regularly threatened by some members of Congress. ,The  Farm Bill sets policy and funding for many of these programs, and it will be reauthorized in 2012.  That process, unfortunately, can provide an opportunity for those that want to undermine the food and nutrition safety net. The City of Chicago should use its voice through the reauthorization process, and at other critical moments, to speak to the importance of these programs to the residents of our city and the need to protect and enhance them.

Leverage urban agriculture –
As we expand opportunities for urban agriculture in Chicago, the city and other stakeholders should make a concerted effort to ensure that a portion of local produce is distributed to people who cannot afford to buy it.

By working on these specific action items, in conjunction with the myriad of existing efforts at both the community and city-wide level, we will end hunger in Chicago.

Thank you.

Submitted by
Kate Maehr

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Report shows SNAP provides lifeline for families and support for the economy

Karen lost her job more than a year ago. As she traveled across the Southwest Suburbs looking for work, she was devastated to hear from her husband Rob that he had also lost his job at a warehouse. Already struggling to make ends meet in the face of rising food and fuel costs, the family was unsure where their next meal would come from. Fortunately, Karen applied for, and began to receive benefits through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps. SNAP has helped her family stretch their limited budget to pay for bills while putting food on the table.

A new report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) emphasizes the importance of SNAP in the lives of unemployed Americans like Karen and Rob. The report Lifeline for Families, Support for the Economy: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, notes that SNAP provides an 18 percent boost to income for those families with an individual who was been unemployed for more than six months, and is one of the few sources of aid for those unemployed individuals who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. 

The report also explains how SNAP provides a boost to the economy by supporting consumer spending and saving jobs. “As cash-strapped recipients quickly spend benefits, the impact is felt by grocers, truck drivers, food production workers, and farmers…SNAP allows retailers and others to retain employees who might otherwise have been let go.” According to USDA estimates, $1 in SNAP benefits increases GDP by $1.79, and $1 billion in SNAP benefits generate as many as 17,900 full-time jobs. Read the full report to learn more about the link between unemployment and SNAP participation and the spillover benefits for the economy as a whole.

 With one in six Americans struggling to put food on the table, SNAP is more important than ever, yet funding and access to the program are at risk. As Congress works to reduce the federal deficit and the Farm Bill comes up for reauthorization next year, it is important to keep SNAP strong. Please join the Greater Chicago Food Depository in urging Members of Congress to oppose any cuts or structural changes to SNAP and other anti-hunger programs in the budget and the Farm Bill. Visit the Food Depository’s Advocacy Center for more information on how you can take action in support of SNAP.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Food Depository and its partners help make the holidays merry

The holiday season is a time to be thankful and to celebrate friends and family. For too many Chicagoans, the stress of not being able to afford food for their families threatens to overshadow this joyous time of year.

In Uptown, Maggie knows everyone, and everyone knows Maggie. Around the neighborhood, Maggie greets old friends—some of whom she’s known since she was a child—and reminisces about the old days.

Maggie has fallen on hard times and turns to Cornerstone Community Outreach, a member agency of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. During the agency’s weekly food distribution Maggie is able to get the nutritious food she needs but cannot afford.

The day before Thanksgiving, Cornerstone Community Outreach held a special distribution and Maggie received a Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings.

“This is my first turkey—I’m real nervous,” Maggie said. “I don’t want to mess it up. I’ve never really had to cook [one] before, but I’m excited to go home and see what I can do.”

Throughout Cook County the Food Depository’s 650 member food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters helped to put a festive Thanksgiving meal on the tables of men, women and children in our community.

For Maggie, every day is Thanksgiving. She may face personal obstacles, but she also is grateful for the kindness she receives.

“I just feel so blessed and I know something good is going to happen.”

To help the Food Depository and its network provide healthy food to Chicagoans during the holidays and year-round, please give what you can. Whether a dollar, a can of food, or an hour of volunteer time—because of you, someone will eat today. Learn more at chicagosfoodbank.org.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Update on Deficit Reduction and the Food and Nutrition Safety Net

Did the Super Committee process really fail?
As you may have heard, the Super Committee has failed to put forth a comprehensive deficit reduction plan. Under the terms of the Budget Control Act, this means that automatic sequestration, or cuts in government spending, will go into effect in January 2013.

What does this mean for the food and nutrition safety net?
The automatic cuts, which would total $1.2 trillion over 10 years, would affect defense and non-defense programs equally. Many low-income programs, including child nutrition, SNAP and TEFAP commodities, would be protected from these cuts. However, WIC is not exempt from automatic sequester.

What happens next?
We can expect heated debate in 2012 over whether to attempt another comprehensive deficit reduction effort before the sequester goes into effect in January 2013, and attempts to amend the terms of the sequester. Given that 2012 is an election year, this debate can be expected to dominate both the presidential and congressional campaigns. We also expect the Farm Bill to be debated during the 2012 calendar year.

What You Can Do:
The need for sustained advocacy continues. The need to show constituent support for nutrition assistance programs does not end with the Super Committee’s failure. We must continue to educate members of Congress about the need for and value of nutrition-assistance programs. Keep up your efforts to meet with Members of Congress, make phone calls and send letters, and reach out to your local media. Take advantage of every opportunity to reinforce our key advocacy message: “No cuts to SNAP, TEFAP and other nutrition safety net programs in this time of growing need.”

Learn more about these programs at chicagosfoodbank.org/advocate

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jewel-Osco donation arrives at critical time

We are fortunate to report that holiday gifts already are streaming into the Food Depository. But one in particular stands out. Last week, we received a gift of $157,137 from Jewel-Osco for our Hunger Action Month partnership in September. We are so grateful for Jewel's support, especially as we face a daunting holiday season. Thank you, Jewel, for all that you do--including more than 6 million pounds of donated food last year alone. (From left, Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO, Greater Chicago Food Depository, and Sheila Creghin of Jewel-Osco.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Help us stop massive cuts to anti-hunger funding

When Sheila Enright bought her childhood home from her parents in the early 1980s, she didn’t doubt that she could afford a home in the increasingly affluent Edgewater neighborhood. With a stable career as a corporate consultant, she could care for her aging parents and raise her son under one roof.

Thirty years later, Sheila’s life has changed drastically. A victim of the economic crisis, Sheila, now 58, lost her full-time career in 2007. Optimistic that the job market would turn around, Sheila worked on a contract basis sporadically until 2010, when the work dried up completely. Sheila now struggles with mounting mortgage payments and property taxes with no income–just to keep a roof over her family.

Sheila no longer has the resources to keep up with necessary home repairs and utilities, but she believes that her decision to buy her home has been her “saving grace.” 

“If I hadn’t, I would be homeless,” Sheila said.

Sheila is actively looking for work, applying to openings and networking with contacts, but has not found a job yet.

“I kept hoping the economy would recover,” Sheila said. Nearly two years after losing her part-time work, Sheila is still waiting. “I will lose my house.”

To hold on to her home and help stretch her already burdened budget, Sheila now relies on the nearby Care for Real Food Pantry, a member agency of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, for groceries.

“I used to donate to the pantry,” Sheila said. When Sheila realized she needed to turn to the pantry for food, she was embarrassed. “It was terrifying,” Sheila said. “Why would I, who has always been a giver, ever need assistance?”

Despite the discomfort of asking for help, Care for Real has helped Sheila alleviate one of her worries as she struggles to keep her home for the sake of her son, now in his final semester of college.

“I need to maintain a house for my child,” Sheila said. “It is my job to keep a roof over his head.”

Congress is just days away from announcing a plan to cut the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion, and there’s a very real danger that they will cut vital aid programs that Sheila and millions of Americans rely on to make ends meet. Tomorrow, organizations across the nation are joining in a massive effort to send a clear message: Do not cut the deficit by cutting hungry people out of the picture. Members of Congress will finalize their deficit plan in days, so there is absolutely no time to waste.

Contact your legislators now–even a quick message makes a huge difference: Call 1-877-698-8228 to contact Senators Durbin and Kirk, as well as your Representative, and tell them not to slash funding for anti-hunger programs, or visit the Food Depository’s Advocacy Center to send an Action Alert, chicagosfoodbank.org/advocate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Take action to protect SNAP

The Senate is debating its version of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill right now. Several harmful amendments are being considered that would cut future SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) benefits. SNAP is a vital source of nutritious food for many of the individuals and families we serve in Cook County.  Making changes to SNAP at this accelerated pace in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill would hurt thousands of Illinoisans, increase administrative burdens and take control away from states. We urge you to call your Senators and ask them to oppose any amendments that would cut SNAP or any of the nutrition assistance programs in this bill. Help us keep the pressure on Congress and tell them that cutting anti-hunger programs is unacceptable!

The Senate may be voting on these amendments any minute, so call Senators Durbin and Kirk NOW and deliver this message:

“Hi, my name is ________ and I am from (city, state). I am calling you today to urge you to vote for passage of the Senate’s FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill and oppose any amendments that may harm SNAP or any other anti-hunger program." 

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin
Tel: (202) 224-2152

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk
Tel: (202) 224-2854


About SNAP
SNAP is the cornerstone of the nutrition safety net, providing over 46 million low-income participants with monthly benefits via a grocery debit card. SNAP has proven to be one of the most responsive, efficient safety net programs. The program expands quickly to meet rising need, as demonstrated in the recent recession, and provides an efficient benefit transfer that results in $1.79 in local economic activity for each additional $1 in benefits expended.  76% of SNAP households contain a child, senior, or disabled member, and 84% of all benefits go to these households. With one in six Americans struggling to put food on the table, nutrition assistance programs are more important than ever.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Squash travels from field to the Food Depository

More than 20 volunteers came together this Saturday to harvest five acres of butternut and acorn squash in McHenry County. The effort is one of the creative ways the Greater Chicago Food Depository is accessing food as rising costs have led to reduced supply. Thanks to a farmer who is donating the crops, the Food Depository has been able to harvest tons of sweet corn and squash this fall. We collected more than 32,000 pounds on Saturday alone. In coming days, volunteers will bag and sort the squash and distribute it to pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across Cook County.

UPDATE: Here are more photos from Saturday:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Have you told your Member of Congress that you support ending hunger?


The Greater Chicago Food Depository is working to end hunger in our community. This work requires all of us to let decision-makers know that we want them to stand up for those who need food. Join people across the country in speaking up for vital anti-hunger programs for low-income individuals and families.

Right now Members of Congress are focused on the deficit reduction agreement and a potential full Senate vote on the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. That’s why this is a key moment to raise your voice and influence the course of events that will affect hundreds of thousands of Americans who rely on federal nutrition programs to feed themselves and their families. (For more information on what’s at stake in these proposals, visit the Food Depository’s Advocacy Center at chicagosfoodbank.org/advocate.)

Make a difference TODAY by calling U.S. Senators Kirk and Durbin to deliver this important message: 

“Hi, my name is ________ and I am from (city, Illinois). I urge you to protect federal nutrition programs in the deficit reduction plan and to vote YES on the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill when it comes to the Senate floor. Please reject proposals that would strip funding from these valuable programs that are critical to reducing hunger in our state.” 

In the coming weeks, there will be additional opportunities to take action. The Food Depository will keep you informed of the latest development. Together, we can help keep anti-hunger programs strong at every possible opportunity. 

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk
Tel: (202) 224-2854

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin
Tel: (202) 224-2152

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bank of America helps the Food Depository fight child hunger


Bank of America presented the Greater Chicago Food Depository with $100,000 to help fund its efforts to fight child hunger in Cook County. From left, Lauren Biedron, Food Depository; Julie Chavez, Bank of America; Jennifer Streder, Bank of America; Caroline Howe, Food Depository; and Kate Maehr, Food Depository.

Last week, Bank of America visited the Greater Chicago Food Depository to present a generous donation of $100,000 to help Food Depository children's programs end child hunger in Cook County. 

As a lead corporate supporter of the Food Depository's Healthy Kids Markets and Kids Cafe and Nourish for Knowledge programs, Bank of America's generous gift will help the Food Depository provide thousands of nutritious meals to children across Cook County every day. 

Children are disproportionately affected by hunger. Thirty-seven percent of the 678,000 individuals who turn to the Food Depository's network of  pantries, soup kitchens and shelters each year are under the age of 18. Nine percent are under the age of five.

Learn more about the Food Depository's efforts to end child hunger here

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New data shows startling food insecurity rates for Cook County communities


When the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week that the national poverty rate had reached its highest levels since 1993, no one seemed particularly shocked.

Among the least surprised: staff members at the Greater Chicago Food Depository and its partner agencies, who have witnessed, first-hand, the effects of deteriorating economy—and the subsequent increased demand for food assistance.

Now a new set of numbers underscores just how difficult times have become for families and individuals in the Chicago area. The Food Depository released a study today
Among the key findings in the study, released at the Third Annual Lillian and Larry Goodman Hunger Forum:

  • In the City of Chicago, the rate of food insecurity is 20.6%; in suburban Cook County, 15.4%; 845,910 individuals in Cook County are food insecure, uncertain where they will find their next meal;
  • Riverdale (40.8%), Washington Park (34.0%), Englewood and North Lawndale (both at 31.2%) had the highest rates of food insecurity in the City of Chicago, while Ford Heights (55.5%), Robbins (45.0%) and Dixmoor (38.7%) had the highest rate in the suburbs;
  • In Cook County, 36% of those who are food insecure – 304,528 individuals – earn more than 185% of the poverty level ($20,146 for a household of one) and are thus not eligible for most federal nutrition programs.
The scope of the demand is glaringly evident at Food Depository agencies -- the food pantries and food distribution centers across Cook County where families and individuals are able to secure desperately needed food -- and support.
 
Wendy Vasquez, Executive Director of Ravenswood Community Services, says traffic at their food pantry doubled between 2007 and 2009, during the height of the recession. Participation continued at 2009’s high levels – until recently. “We’ve seen an incredible spike this summer,” said Ms. Vasquez. “One night a few weeks ago, we hit a very unfortunate milestone when we provided groceries to more than 400 people or households.”

“The line of people waiting for our pantry and kitchen to open consistently wraps around the corner and down the block,” Ms. Vasquez said.

Lisa Haskin, of the Harvest Food Pantry in Evanston, has witnessed a similar trend. “The number of families we serve each month increased drastically – by about 50 percent – in July of 2009,”

“We’re definitely seeing more people struggling financially because of job loss,” said Ms. Haskin. Widespread job losses were responsible for the initial bump in demand at local pantries, and a dearth of new jobs has kept food agencies busy in succeeding years.

Mary Nash runs the food pantry at Grace Missionary Baptist Church in Markham. “People are feeling very pessimistic,” she said. “Within the last three months, 12 or 15 people I’ve talked to have lost their jobs. And they just can’t find work.”

Ms. Vasquez, Ms. Nash and Ms. Haskin report that while their traditional clients – older people on fixed incomes – continue to rely heavily on pantries for food, a new population, made up of families and young adults, has joined them. This demographic shift, an unwanted souvenir from the ongoing recession, underscores a difficult truth: Food insecurity has become a difficult fact of life for many families in Cook County.

That daily struggle, said Ms. Vasquez, takes its toll. “It feels like most people are becoming less optimistic,” she said. “Those who’ve lost their jobs and have gone without work for a long time are losing hope. There are anecdotal stories of good ‘new job’ news, but those seem to be limited.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Nash said she counsels clients to “keep the faith,” even in these economically bleak times. “I try to uplift their spirits,” she said. “But I know that doesn’t pay the bills.” 


By Jessica Reaves

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September is Hunger Action Month – Get Involved!

September has been proclaimed Hunger Action Month in Illinois by Gov. Pat Quinn. Throughout the month, Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository, is working to engage citizens and agencies to take action and help spread the word about how pervasive hunger is in every community.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository is part of this national movement to raise awareness and take action to help the 50 million Americans who experience hunger, and we want you to join the fight!


What is Hunger Action Month?
Hunger Action Month is when the Food Depository asks everyone in Cook County to take action to fight hunger in their community, all month long. Hunger Action Month is your opportunity to join a movement that has a real and lasting impact on our effort to feed more Americans than ever before. Whether it’s by advocating and raising awareness, making donations, or volunteering, individuals can find the way that’s right for them to make a difference during Hunger Action Month. Throughout the campaign, the Food Depository is calling upon communities to take action.

Why is Hunger Action Month important to me?
Hunger Action Month gives you the opportunity to get more involved in the fight against hunger! In Cook County, 16.1 percent, or 845,910 people, are food insecure. Of the food insecure population, 53% are not eligible for most federal nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This means that charitable organizations, like pantries and soup kitchens, play a vital role in ensuring the well-being of the hungry in Cook County.

How can I help?
Taking a stand against hunger can mean raising your voice, raising awareness, and rallying for a change. There is something that everyone can do to feed the hungry this September. Here are some ideas:

aDownload the 30 Ways in 30 Days calendar and post it in your home or office.
aContact your local, state and federal officials about hunger
aHost a food drive to rally your office, community or workplace against hunger
aDonate funds towards the purchase of meals for those in need
aVolunteer at your local pantry, soup kitchen or shelter

Where can I get more information?
Visit hungeractionmonth.org or contact Dylan Uhlir at duhlir@gcfd.org or 773-843-7287 today!

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Taste of the Lunch Bus: The End

The summer has rolled by with increasing speed this year; June slipped almost unnoticed into July, July scurried into August, and it is now September and children are preparing to go back to school, if they haven’t returned already. The days of dancing in fire hydrants, catching fireflies and chasing the ice cream truck are numbered, and so are my days aboard the Lunch Bus. Today is the final day of the Lunch Bus City Route. The South Suburban Route ended two weeks ago, and the desk my fellow intern used to occupy has sat empty for the past 10 days reminding me that soon my papers will be cleared off and my desk will await the new Lunch Bus intern next year.

I have definitely gotten my own taste of the hunger and nutrition problems in the city this summer. I remember children like Jerome Fears at Back of the Yards who told me all about the new McFlurry he tried, but asked what a plum was, and Bruce Thomas whose favorite restaurant is Burger King, but had never tried bell peppers before. As an intern, I often worried about the day to day: whether we had chocolate milk, how many meals I could give out at each site and if kids would enjoy the food that day. But as the summer comes to an end, I realize we did more than just hand out lunches; we gave mothers a chance to save some much needed money, and fed kids at least one nutritious meal per day.

Each site has a different reaction to the announcement that Friday will be the final day. The kids at the Wabash YMCA asked if I was going to bring cake. At Back of the Yards it came as no surprise, as they thought the last day would be a few weeks ago. And at Our Lady of Good Counsel, the Castaneda family with eight kids went back to school on Aug. 29, so they said their goodbyes last week and asked if I would be back next year.

It will, in fact, be a new intern as I am heading down to Washington DC to take grad school classes and work in Public Affairs for the Department of Transportation. And, although someone new will be handing out sandwiches and checking off meal counts next year, I will never forget my summer on the Lunch Bus.

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 15,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Taste of the Lunch Bus: Little Helpers

Last week, the Lunch Bus served 112 kids at the Miami Park site alone. So far, that is the record number served at any site on the City Suburban route—and is a milestone for the program. Some sites such as the Salvation Army in Little Village, has quadrupled in size since June, with more than 60 children served every day. With numbers this high, it can be difficult for me to enforce the rule that children must eat on site and keep the area clean, while also handing out lunches.

Recently, I haven’t had to worry about enforcing these rules alone. The children who visit the Lunch Bus regularly are incredibly willing to help. In fact, the minute we drive up to St. Pancratius, a group of kids asks to help unload the lunches. Whether they are naturally helpful, or just really hungry, their offers are much appreciated. Later, as I am packing up to leave and collecting garbage, my helpers will often spring into action again. This is especially noticeable at Miami Park, where Michelle and her sister Jasmine will jump up and climb under playground equipment to grab trash I hadn’t even seen. My helpers make my job much easier, but I am not the only one the kids assist.

At Back of the Yards, I noticed Rori would stop at Asia and Daeveon’s house before coming over to the park. Asia and “Dae Dae” are too young to cross the street by themselves, but Rori makes sure that the siblings get their lunches every day.

Many siblings help their younger brothers and sisters write their names if they are too young to use a pen. Christian is one such older brother at Miami Park. After he writes his and his siblings’ names, he often comes and sits in the grass by my table. When there is a long line, it’s difficult to hand out lunches and keep tabs on the exit. Suddenly, Christian will be at my side. “Their trying to leave,” he whispers, pointing to a group of kids sneaking out the exit. I explain they have to eat lunch at the park, and they turn back to the benches. When I asked him why he was helping me enforce the rules he said, as if it were obvious, “Because I want the Lunch Bus to keep coming for everybody.”

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 25,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Taste of the Lunch Bus: Wabash YMCA

A traditional lunch begins at noon, and that is when the Lunch Bus rolls into the parking lot beside the Wabash YMCA near U.S. Cellular Field. We set up under a small tree in the middle of the lot, and wait for the children to come running down the street. They come from houses in the neighborhood, a summer school program down the street, and sometimes even the YMCA itself.

Today, some of our first customers were the Willis kids, 5-year-old Brandon and 8-year-old Carlyn, who always sprint down the sidewalk, regardless of whether or not they are late. Brandon usually brings his action figures, and, like many of the other kids, celebrates the days chocolate milk is on the menu. After visiting the Lunch Bus the first few days of summer, they soon invited their neighbors to join them.

Bruce Thomas, age 3, cannot write his name, so his sister Anaya comes to the front of the line to help, then returns to her spot. Bruce takes his lunch at sits behind me, and every once in a while I will get a tug on my shirt. Looking up at me with his big brown eyes, Bruce asks, “Can you do this for me?” and offers me a bag of animal crackers or a package of strawberries. Young Reggenia, his sister, doesn’t know her last name, but does know she loves applesauce. She loves it so much that she dances around with the cup, and about half the container winds up on her shirt by the end of lunch.

A day-care program started stopping by the Lunch Bus with a mini-van full of kids ranging in age from 2 to 13. The oldest is Jake who is very selective in his food choices. Once he sees what the lunch is for the day, he conducts an auction of the things he doesn’t like, such as milk, to trade for what he does, like apples or Baked Doritos. “He’s going to be quite the businessman,” one of my volunteer drivers remarked.

Recently, the Thomas family returned from a trip to visit family. The minute they saw the Lunch Bus they rushed down the sidewalk to tell me they were back. Bruce then looked up at me and asked, “So what’s for lunch?”

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 25,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Taste of the Lunch Bus: Miami Park

At 2:10 p.m., Miami Park in Little Village is at its busiest: kids swinging or running around the playground, mothers sitting on benches, watching and chatting. However, they are all waiting for the arrival of the Greater Chicago Food Depository Lunch Bus. When we arrive, there is already a line formed with just enough space for me and my sign-in table at the front.

The ride to Miami Park is often interesting as the community has many practices I had never seen before. Households have yard sales all week long by hanging clothing on their picket fences and the streets are lined with umbrella-covered stands selling fruit and “chicharonnes.” A few weeks ago, when the weather was sweltering, we drove through fire hydrants spraying full blast. Almost all the children who came to the Lunch Bus were dripping.

Miami Park is one of our busiest sites with upwards of 65 kids served each day. In fact, on Tuesday August 16th, 112 children received lunches at this site. When I make the announcement that they must eat their meal at the park, I have to do it in both Spanish and English, as the majority of the population is Hispanic. The children all sign their own names, which is entertaining at times. “No, I can do it!” little ones often shout before a parent or sibling can write their name. The other children in line wait patiently as each makes his or her mark, and often ask me questions.

“What is the food today?”

“Como estás?”

“How many boxes do you have?”

“Como te llamas?”

This last question was posed by Andy, a 3-year-old who always seems to have just come from playing in a fire hydrant. At first I tell him my name is Allison, but he can’t seem to pronounce it. So I say instead that it is Alicia, and he grins widely. The next day as we round the corner all I hear is “Alicia! Hola Alicia!”

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 20,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

Take Action to Protect Nutrition Programs!

Congress passed the Budget Control Act on Aug. 2. This legislation has the potential to severely alter the budget and structure of federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and WIC.

This bill is designed to reduce the deficit in two stages:

Stage one: The first round of budget cuts, which will be effective as early as Oct. 1, will include more than $600 billion in cuts from non-defense discretionary spending. Effected programs may include WIC, CSFP, TEFAP and CACFP. SNAP funding is protected from cuts in this stage.

Stage two: The newly assembled “Super Congress,” which consists of three Democrats and three Republicans from each chamber, is charged with crafting deficit reduction legislation that achieves at least $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. During this stage all nutrition programs, including SNAP, TEFAP and CSFP, will be on the table for funding cuts.

It is crucial that nutrition programs remain a central issue in the deficit reduction negotiations. In order to protect these programs, we must ensure that Congress understands the vital role that each plays in the well-being of so many Americans. At a time when one in six people—including one in four childrenare hungry in America, it is vital that nutrition programs are protected. We agree that balancing the budget is important, but we should do this by cutting programs and policies that aren’t efficient or essential, not those for which there is tremendous need and which have proven highly effective in time of increased demand.

For more information on the Budget Control Act and for an opportunity to take action, visit the Advocacy Center today!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Taste of the Lunch Bus: Back of the Yards Park

Under a viaduct on 49th Street and through a mural-painted tunnel, the Lunch Bus travels to the Back of the Yards Park each morning at 11:15 a.m. The area is almost always silent—there are no children in the park and empty swings sway in the breeze. It is the slowest stop on the route, but its growth during the course of the summer is what keeps me hopeful.

Nearby paintings and billboards should have tipped me off to why the park is deserted. One image of candles stands out with the message “Someone was killed here.” Another reads: “No guns, children playing.” Recently a city worker cleaning up the park told us about the multiple gangs on either side of the bridge. It was no wonder that when six-year-old Ganiyra first came to the Lunch Bus, her eyes widened when I told her she had to eat her meal in the park. “But my mom doesn’t like us coming here,” she explained. “This is the shooter park.”

The Lunch Bus has helped lift this stigma this summer. Asia sometimes stays with her grandmother across the street and will peek out the window when the Lunch Bus pulls up, calling to her brother Daeveon, while hurrying over to ask if we have chocolate milk today. Rori, who lives a few doors down, recently offered me a small lanyard keychain. “I made this for you,” she said with a grin.

The park is still empty when the Lunch Bus arrives, but by the time we leave for the next stop, there are children laughing on the benches, swapping juice for animal crackers and giving us a glimpse of the park’s true potential.

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 15,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A taste of the Lunch Bus: Our Lady of Good Counsel

On a shady corner besides the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel in McKinley Park, the streets are quiet and lined with well-kept houses with the odd bicycle or scooter parked outside. It is here that the Lunch Bus stops at 12:45 p.m. each weekday to provide meals for the children in the area. At first it was the slowest stop, with just one little girl from across the street coming out each day. Gaby and I would have lunch together.

Two weeks in, word finally got out. One family with nine children began arriving each day in a large black van. The family would pile out and, after politely accepting their lunches, would sit together on the steps near the church to eat. Then a babysitter brought the two children she watches, Mia and Liam. Mia is two years old and learning both Spanish and English. “Manana!” she says as she rolls away in her stroller each afternoon. Ricardo and his sister Nubia also come often, always smiling and asking me how I am.

Lastly, the Napoleon family became Lunch Bus regulars. Each day Alyssa and her brothers, Jared and Jaden, sprint down the block when they see the Lunch Bus. On July 22, lunch included watermelon and celery. The Napoleons were excited for the fresh produce. “They love fruit,” their mother explained. “Once every two weeks the local grocery store has a 10 for $10 sale on fruit, and they keep track of when it is for me.” Alyssa smiled at me with her watermelon-juice lips, “Will there be more food like this next week?”

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 15,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Taste of the Lunch Bus: Observations from A Lunch Bus Intern

When working with kids, you never know what to expect. As a former waitress I have witnessed everything from temper tantrums over chocolate milk to children who seemed like miniature adults. When I was offered the position of Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository this summer, I had no idea what to expect. I had fed kids before, but not kids who may not have had breakfast; not kids who might not eat lunch at all without me.

Many children in the city go without regular meals when school is out for the summer. Maybe they are home alone all day and do not have food in the house. Maybe their parents are out of work and can only provide a meal or two per day. Whatever the reason, no child is at fault for his or her hunger. It was this that drew me to the Lunch Bus. Recently graduated from a university committed to a tradition of community service, I loved the idea of sharing my time and energy with these kids.

On my first day, the first four stops were very slow, some with no children at all. I was devastated and confused. Where were all the children? What was the point of spending my summer giving out meals when no one even showed up? I got my answer at the sixth stop. As we rounded the corner to Miami Park in Little Village, there they were. Droves of children were playing on the playground, but the moment they saw the Lunch Bus with the Food Depository logo, a cheer went up and a line immediately formed. The children were all smiles as they scribbled their names on the sign-in sheet. No one fought in line, and they were excited to try the new food. As we prepared to travel to our next stop, Ms. Dixon, the volunteer driver helping me that day, turned to me and said, “I told you they’d be there. They’ll all be like that pretty soon.”

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 15,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

SNAP Matters to Public Health!

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) is the nation's primary nutrition assistance program. Last year, the Greater Chicago Food Depository's SNAP Outreach Program staff assisted nearly 2,300 households with the completion and submission of their SNAP applications to the Department of Human Services during visits to food pantries and older adult sites.

Recently, Craig Gundersen, a University of Illinois economist, stressed that social safety net programs, like SNAP, that reduce psychological stressors for low-income families also ultimately lead to a reduction in childhood obesity. Gundersen says:

"If we cut back on benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or otherwise reduce its availability to people, that would increase the amount of stress that low-income families would face, which would then subsequently lead to increases in obesity."

Research shows that our work to connect individuals and families in Cook County with SNAP benefits not only reduces hunger, but also plays an integral role in improving public health. Click here to learn more about SNAP Outreach at the Food Depository.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Come rain, shine or snow, we have a mission to achieve



That's part of the Food Depository staff you see setting up for a Producemobile distribution at True Vine in Dixmoor, IL. We distributed apples, lettuce, beans, carrots and bread, among other things.

Today was our quarterly Employee Day, which also doubled as our fiscal year-end celebration. Part of that is getting out into the community and volunteering. Sometimes, some of us are in the offices a lot, so this is an amazing opportunity to get our hands dirty (sometimes literally) and really experience what we do and interact with the people we serve every day.

What was special about this distribution--one of four the Food Depository staff participated in today throughout Chicago--was that it was raining. It wasn't some kind of magical rain or anything, but rather that we were out there, still providing food to those in need. Come rain, shine or snow, we have a mission and we're going to achieve it.

If there's one thing I took from today, it's the outstanding commitment of everyone here at the Food Depository.

UPDATE: Here are a few more photos from other locations.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Take Action During Debt Negotiations!

As the deadline for increasing the nation’s debt ceiling grows closer, crucial negotiations between the President and Congressional leaders over short-term deficit reduction continue. The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Executive Director and CEO, Kate Maehr, recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post Chicago, where she highlighted those who are most at risk during the deficit battles:

"We understand the long-term importance of getting our nation's financial house in order. But, we urge Congress to take a measured approach in the budget battle and avoid slashing vital services that are essential to the stability and wellbeing of those most in need, especially children and the elderly. A downward spiral is a real worry. Cuts at the federal and state level will place enormous burdens on scores of critical human services organizations – and, this at a time when 1.8 million people and 850,000 households in Illinois are currently receiving SNAP benefits, the highest number ever."

We must tell Congress that any debt ceiling or deficit reduction plan must protect programs for low-income families and individuals–particularly key support programs like SNAP (formerly Food Stamps). The plan should reduce poverty and help disadvantaged people, even as it attempts to shrink the deficit. Low-income assistance programs must be exempt from any caps and automatic across-the-board cuts that could be triggered when budget targets or fiscal restraint targets are missed.

Use your voice and tell Congress to oppose harmful cuts or caps to nutrition programs. Visit our Advocacy Center and take action today!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Commission to End Hunger kicks off its statewide listening tour

In 2010, the Commission to End Hunger was appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn with the mission of developing a two-year plan to end hunger in Illinois. The Commission is responsible for developing this action plan, reviewing its progress, and ensuring cross-collaboration among government entities and the community. Comprised of legislators and community leaders who are committed to this mission, the Commission is conducting a listening tour this summer and fall, to learn firsthand how hunger is affecting men, women and children across Illinois. The Commission is co-chaired by Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The Illinois Commission to End Hunger began its statewide listening tour on July 10 in Rantoul, a farming community surrounded by the picturesque cornfields of central Illinois. The Commission’s goal: uncovering (and eventually correcting) the crises of food insecurity and hunger facing migrant and seasonal farm workers.

Each summer, waves of farm workers arrive in this once-thriving town, which has struggled to maintain a dwindling population after the local Air Force base closed in the mid-1990s. Today, Rantoul looks like so many other American towns: Its film set-ready central business district, lined with the shells of small, independent shops, is all but abandoned.

The migrant workers who arrive in Rantoul are hired by local farmers to de-tassel corn or handle other crops. They work long days in unforgiving weather conditions, and frequently wait weeks for their first paychecks, a lapse that makes it nearly impossible to feed their families.

Five of the 21 state-appointed commissioners were on hand Sunday to hear from members of the Illinois Migrant Council, an advocacy group started in 1966 to address the health, employment, housing and educational needs of the state’s estimated 30,000 seasonal farm workers. Eloy Salazar, the group’s executive director, spoke passionately about the need for increased funding for food programs and the workers’ daily struggles to survive.

“Most farm workers have to really stretch their pay and their food just to get to the next paycheck,” Salazar said. “They choose between fuel to get to work and food to feed their families. That’s the experience of many workers. And in the extreme cases, where there’s not enough work, and no pay, the children in these families will go hungry.” Long-term inadequate nutrition can lead to serious, long-term health problems, he said – which go untreated due to lack of care options, often derailing work during the crucial seasonal window.

The Commission will present its reports and updates on progress to the governor and General Assembly annually, beginning in March 2012. Be sure to check back in with the Food Depository blog as it chronicles the Commission's listening tour and for the dates and locations of the tour's Cook County stops.