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:

Custom House Tavern
GT Fish & Oyster
The Publican
West Town Tavern

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