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.