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.