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 est├ís?”

“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.