Friday, December 21, 2012

Blue Cross Blue Shield takes on hunger this holiday season

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Tower lit up the Chicago skyline last week with an important message on behalf of the Greater Chicago Food Depository: Feed Chicago.

The need is great this holiday season. More that 807,000 men, women and children in Cook County – 1 in 6  – are at risk of hunger. The Food Depository released data this week showing an 89 percent increase in pantry visits over five years.
In an effort to provide relief to struggling Cook County families, BCBSIL employees gathered at their downtown Chicago headquarters last week to assemble emergency food boxes.  More than 150 executive leaders assembled 800 boxes of shelf-stable food items that will provide 3,000 meals for individuals and families across Cook County – including Addie Carter and her daughter Myesha.
Addie, 58, is a cancer survivor from Harvey who was forced to leave her job as a cook after a stroke left her unable to work. She now lives on a low limited fixed income and cares for her 27-year-old daughter with special needs – making it difficult to pay for bills and food.

This Tuesday, Addie and her daughter found relief at the Food Depository’s Producemobile at the True Vine Missionary Baptist Church in Dixmoor – where clients received food boxes and frozen turkeys provided by BCBSIL.

“This is blessing,” said Addie. “You don’t know despair until you have no food in your house. Tonight I won’t have to worry about what my family is going to eat.”

A special thanks to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois for supporting the Food Depository in the fight against hunger in our community. Learn more on how you can make in impact in your community by visiting

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"You never think you will be here."

“You never think you will be here until you are here,” said Graciela Cruz, as she stood in line at the True Vine Missionary Baptist Church in Dixmoor. Despite the bitter cold weather, the young mother from Blue Island arrived early with her 18-month-old son Stephen to get in line with more than 180 others for the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Producemobile distribution on Dec. 18.

The need across Cook County remains at record levels as Food Depository member agencies are seeing more individuals than ever before – with some pantries serving twice the amount of clients they served a few years ago. Newly released data shows pantries recorded 1.95 million visits from July to October this year, a new organizational record for that period. Overall the Food Depository has seen an 89 percent increase in the number of pantry visits in five years.

The record comes as the Food Depository, and food banks nationwide, face increasing challenges in food sourcing due to rising food prices, fewer food donations and limited government food – making every donation to the Food Depository even more critical.

Thanks to the generosity of Food Depository donors and volunteers, Graciela and her son went home with a box of fresh produce, a box of nonperishable food items and a frozen turkey. “It has been a tough couple of months but it is great to know we have help. Thank you for helping my family,” said Graciela.

No one should go hungry this holiday season. Every contribution to the Food Depository puts food on the table for individuals and families in our community.

Make a donation today.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Food Depository supports struggling veterans

This past weekend the nation observed Veterans Day – a day to celebrate the men and women who bravely served and protected our country. The Greater Chicago Food Depository's impact in the community extends to veterans who are struggling. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 18,000 veterans in Cook County are living below the poverty level. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports 10 percent of people homeless in Chicago are veterans.

Just last week, Food Depository staff, volunteers and AmeriCorps members met hundreds of veterans facing food insecurity in Cook County at the 2012 Veteran Standdown event hosted by the Chicago Veterans Economic Development Council. The Chicago-area Vet Centers, VA Medical Centers and more than 30 public and private, federal/state and city agencies lead the Standdown effort.
"As I drove past the armory looking for parking, I was astounded to see the number of homeless veterans waiting to be let inside. Many had been waiting for over an hour in the cold," said Elizabeth Berkeley, one of the Food Depository's AmeriCorps members.

More than 850 veterans arrived at the Humboldt Park Armory on Thursday, where they received winter coats and clothing, health screenings, hair cuts and food. While Food Depository volunteers handed out bags of nonperishable food items and fresh fruit to every veteran, SNAP Outreach coordinators and AmeriCorps members were providing information and assistance for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps).
"There was a constant flow of people through the line for food and clothing from 8 in the morning until mid afternoon and our team had the opportunity to talk with most of them," said AmeriCorps member Sara Szwankowski. "We were able to discuss if they were interested in the SNAP program or if they were already receiving SNAP benefits. Many of the attendees had no idea they were eligible."

By the end of the day, 19 veterans completed applications for SNAP benefits with the help of the SNAP Outreach team. 

"It was very inspiring to interact with people that are remaining positive and thankful while going through hardships," said Michelle Cates, another Food Depository AmeriCorps member. "Having the opportunity to be of service to those who have sacrificed and served this country is one of the many reasons why I am proud to be an AmeriCorps member working with the Food Depository."

Make a donation today and help the Greater Chicago Food Depository serve veterans.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Food Depository achieves high marks in food safety

This fall, the Greater Chicago Food Depository underwent its first-ever Silliker Food Safety Audit  – a rigorous assessment used by leaders in the food industry to evaluate facility food safety and quality systems – and achieved an overall score of 98.9 out of a possible 100. This high mark represents the Food Depository’s continued commitment to being a leader in food safety, not just among food banks, but among the entire food industry.

Last fiscal year, the Food Depository distributed 64 million pounds of food – including 21 million pounds of fresh produce – to hungry people in our community. The food, both donated and purchased, is distributed through 650 programs with a network of 400 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Cook County. The Food Depository is committed to providing safe and wholesome food everyday to individuals in need across our community.

The annual Silliker Food Safety Audit provides an impartial and independent assessment of safety programs for ten different areas throughout the Food Depository in accordance with recognized industry and government requirements. This achievement reflects the Food Depository’s strong leadership and commitment to excellence as Chicago's food bank.

To learn more about the Greater Chicago Food Depository, visit

Friday, October 5, 2012

"This helps me pay for food."

Carole Lorden, of Chicago Ridge, was living the American dream until a few years ago.

“I had a great paying job, saved up and bought a beautiful home. My life was on track,” said the 56-year-old former office manager.   “I would read stories about people losing their jobs and struggling and think ‘I am glad that’s not me.’ Then the bottom fell out and now here I am at a food pantry.  Now I am the one struggling.”

Carole’s 20-year career as an office manager was cut short when she became very sick. Unable to work, she was forced to go on permanent disability and quickly went through her savings paying for medical bills and her mortgage.  Now at the end of each month she said there is not enough money for food.  She relies on the UMC Worth food pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository partner agency, and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) to put food on the table.

“It has been a godsend,” said Carole, about receiving her monthly SNAP benefits.  “I don’t want to lose my home. It’s the only thing I have left. So this helps me pay for food so I can pay my mortgage.”

That could soon change for Carole and many other SNAP participants like her. Lawmakers are considering up to $16 billion in cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill – the single largest source of federal funding for nutrition assistance programs – potentially limiting or eliminating access to food for thousands of Cook County households.

The proposed cuts to the Farm Bill would terminate SNAP eligibility to several million people nationwide by eliminating categorical eligibility. Categorical eligibility allows states – including Illinois – to increase or eliminate the federal asset test, which can prevent otherwise eligible low-income households from receiving SNAP benefits all because they own a modest car or a home.

Eliminating categorical eligibility could potentially remove two to three million individuals from SNAP benefits. For Carole and many of the more 820,000 SNAP participants living in Cook County, these cuts could mean the difference between putting food on the table and going hungry.

Congress has postponed passing a Farm Bill until after the November elections, meaning there is still time to take action and protect the nutrition safety net. Contact your representative and urge them to pass a Farm Bill that protects and strengthens food assistance programs like SNAP. For more tools and information visit the Food Depository’s Advocacy Center at

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Food Depository CEO Kate Maehr takes on the SNAP Challenge

Here is what my $35 dollar shopping budget could afford. This will be my only food for the entire week.
On Sunday, I went to my local supermarket with just $35 to spend on a week’s worth of meals. Several obstacles, which were quickly apparent, underscored my purpose for participating in the SNAP Challenge – to offer a glimpse into the life of a food insecure person. The rules of the SNAP Challenge are simple yet demanding: eat for seven days on only $35 – the average individual weekly benefit for a SNAP recipient, accept no free food, and eat nothing you already own.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly known as Food Stamps – is an essential component of our nation’s nutrition safety net and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every year, SNAP helps thousands of people in Chicago afford food.

Our nation’s Farm Bill, which guides funding for SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs, is currently under debate in Washington. This summer, the Senate has proposed cutting SNAP by $4.5 billion over 10 years. The House Agriculture Committee followed with a proposal to reduce SNAP funding by $16 billion during the same period. While development of a new Farm Bill stalled in September, Congress will continue pushing for these cuts after the November elections.

Any reduction in SNAP funding would be devastating as 1 in 6 U.S. households currently struggles with food insecurity. This is why food banks across the country are advocating for the future of the program while encouraging elected officials, media figures and citizens to take the SNAP Challenge.  I am taking the SNAP Challenge and would like to share some of my observations so far.

First, timing and planning are serious considerations for people who buy food with SNAP benefits. It took twice as much time to buy a small basket of food for myself as it does when I shop for my whole family. When you are on such a small budget, you need to consider each item very carefully. Also, even though larger packages of food tend to offer a better value per ounce, you find yourself limited to smaller packages because you cannot afford the big jar of peanut butter or the big bag of rice when you have only $35 for the week.

Shopping in a store where many customers rely on SNAP, certain sale items sell out very quickly. And convenience foods such as peeled vegetables, prepared meat and ready-to-eat sauces are far more expensive than their raw, individual ingredients. Finding the time to cook a whole chicken or a pot of pasta sauce is difficult for people who work one or more jobs while struggling to make ends meet.

It’s also very difficult to eat healthy when your options are limited. Fresh produce is quite expensive – I could only afford one bag of unpeeled carrots, two apples and an onion. When I was finished with my shopping trip, my basket had far more carbohydrates than fruit and vegetables. If it hadn’t been for specials, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the brown rice and whole wheat organic pasta. Milk is also a very precious commodity with a short shelf life at $3 per gallon.

After I filled a basket with my carefully budgeted shopping list, I headed to the self-checkout lane. Because of the unfortunate stigma around the SNAP program, self-checkout is important to people who shop with benefits. I had gone over my $35 limit, but I was able to discreetly return some tomatoes to the display, bringing my total to $33.30. I saved my final $1.70 for a cup of coffee I knew I would want on a long drive Monday night.

Throughout this week, I will continue to update you on my experiences in getting by on a $35 food budget. I also invite you to join me on Twitter this Thursday from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. as I will be hosting a live chat on @FoodDepository using the #SNAPChallenge tag.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bruce Springsteen inspired me to give

Joan Radovich, guest blogger and the winner of the Food Depository's VIP ticket drawing, with Bruce Springsteen.
I know exactly when I became a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music.  It was freshman year, new student week, at Northwestern University.  We listened to Bruce’s “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” albums over and over again.

I also know exactly when I became inspired to donate time and money to fight hunger in this country.  It was 1984.  I was listening to the radio in Dallas, and a DJ mentioned that Bruce had donated money to the local food bank after a concert there.  That gesture, and Bruce’s words and music, have inspired me and thousands of others to help the less fortunate.

Since moving back to Chicago, I’ve become a volunteer and donor for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  My husband and I bring our kids, who now are 10 and 8, down to the Food Depository to volunteer. As a family, we’ve put labels on cans of green beans, packaged cereal and pasta in family-size bags, and packed bags of food for school kids so they would have something to eat over the weekend.

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail that the Food Depository was holding a drawing for VIP tickets to Bruce’s September 7 concert at Wrigley Field.  I entered on a hope and dream – but mainly because it was time for us to begin making our annual donation.  Three days before the concert the Food Depository called to tell me I had won.  I couldn’t believe it.  Two days before the concert, they called to say there was the possibility for a “meet and greet.”  What?  One day before the concert, they asked if I would be willing to present Bruce with a t-shirt and framed photo on behalf of the Food Depository.  Willing?  I was over the moon!

Shortly before the Friday concert, one of Bruce’s assistants escorted my sister and me, and a couple who also had donated to the Food Depository, to the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field to meet Bruce.  We were waiting in a nondescript hallway when Bruce strolled in. When I mentioned 1984 in Dallas, he remembered that that was the year he and his band began to advocate for food banks, starting in Pittsburgh.  I also mentioned that my husband and I make a point to take our kids to the Food Depository to volunteer, and that their favorite CD was “The Rising.”  

Bruce couldn’t have been more gracious - both during our meeting and during the concerts - about his passion to fight hunger.  During both shows at Wrigley Field, he repeatedly championed the work of the Food Depository and food banks nationwide.  Not only did it make me proud to be a volunteer and donor of the Food Depository, it inspired me to help even more.  Bruce’s good deeds, generosity and music have inspired generations to “take care of our own.”

- Joan Radovich

The Greater Chicago Food Depository raised more than $96,000 thanks to the Springsteen Fund Drive. Special thanks to everyone who entered the drawing, made a cash donation and our generous VIP donors. And thanks to Bruce Springsteen for his longtime support of food banks nationwide.   

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hunger Action Month is here!

September is Hunger Action Month - a nationwide effort to motivate local action to end hunger.  The Greater Chicago Food Depository is issuing a call-to-action for everyone in Cook County to mobilize in the fight against hunger.

Find ways to get involved during Hunger Action Month here!

Hunger is a real problem with real faces.  In Cook County, more than 807,000 men, women and children - 1 in 6 people - are unaware of when or where their next meal will come from. More than 250,000 children are facing hunger in our community. Children like Oscar -  who was a regular at one of the Food Depository's Lunch Bus stops in South Lawndale this summer.
Oscar at a Food Depository's Lunch Bus stop in South Lawndale.
Help children like Oscar by taking action against hunger in our community. The Food Depository has put together tips and tools for you, your family and friends to become a part of Hunger Action Month.

Your voice counts. Your actions can make a difference. 'Do it for Chicago.'

Friday, August 31, 2012

Why we 'Do it for Chicago'

Every day, employees of the Greater Chicago Food Depository come to work under one mission – provide food for hungry people while striving to end hunger in our community. While the individuals that make up our diverse staff might specialize in Community Network Relations, Fund Development, Transportation, Information Technology, SNAP Outreach, Volunteer Services and more, every task we undertake is to ensure the more than 807,000 men, women and children who are food insecure in Cook County have access to healthy, nutritious food.
Food Depository employees getting ready to distributing food at Truevine MBC in Dixmoor.
Food Depository staff sorting and packing food at McCormick Tribune YMCA on North Lawndale Avenue.
This past Tuesday, 148 Food Depository employees boarded buses and traveled to four partner programs in Dixmoor, West Englewood, Humbolt Park/Logan Square and Greater Grand Crossing to distribute food to individuals and families in need. It was a chance for all Food Depository staff to work one-on-one with the clients we serve.

During these distributions, Food Depository staff met the many faces of hunger in Chicago - mothers and fathers with young children, laborers struggling to find work and older adults with low fixed incomes - including West Englewood resident Vernice.
A Food Depository employee helping Vernice, a West Englewood resident, at a Mobile Pantry distribution at Operation Blessing on West 59th Street.
Vernice, 69, has lived in West Englewood for more than 50 years and has seen many changes in her community - an increase of crime, shootings and poverty. After 27 years of working as a secretary at the same company, Vernice was laid off - a victim of cutbacks - leaving her without a job and without health insurance. For years, Vernice has struggled to make ends meet. Her savings are gone and Social Security is not enough to cover both bills and food. She admits some nights she eats only crackers so she can pay her gas bill. Those nights she prays she falls asleep quickly so she does not have to feel the hunger pangs. With the help of Operation Blessing at Evening Star MBC in West Englewood, a Food Depository partner agency, Vernice is able to get the food she needs.

This is possible thanks to the support of our generous donors, the help of our volunteers and our dedicated staff. We do it for the parents who struggle to put food on the table. We do it for the children who fall behind in school because they went to school hungry. We do it for the older adults who have to make the difficult choice between paying for food or paying for medicine. We do it for the one in six individuals in Cook County who are unaware of where or when their next meal will be. We 'Do it for Chicago.'

Tell us why you 'Do it for Chicago'? We want to share your story! Email or call 773-843-5498. Post it on our Facebook Wall at or connect with us on Twitter at

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Hunger is right next door"

Lunch Bus intern Kersten Kazen distributing meals to children in the South Suburbs.
I live in the South Suburbs of Chicago and had no idea how much poverty and hunger existed so close to the area I call home. 

I am the intern for the South Suburban route of the Greater Chicago Food Depository's Lunch Bus. Every day, a volunteer driver and I make stops in Calumet City, Chicago Heights, and Blue Island neighborhoods, delivering free lunches to children in targeted communities.  Living in the South Suburbs, I thought it would be interesting to work this particular route.

Of all the neighborhoods that we visit, I was most surprised at the level of need near King Park, in the Chicago Heights neighborhood, because it is very close to where I live. To get to King Park, we drive past old, closed-down storefronts, dilapidated homes, and messy, overgrown fields. 

When we arrive, the park usually looks deserted and empty.  Once we pull into the driveway the scene changes. Dozens of kids come running from all corners of the park. The moment I open my door and step outside kids begin to ask if they can help me set up.  It’s the same at every one of our seven Lunch Bus stops.  The children always want to lend a hand.

Last week, as I was breaking down cardboard boxes at St. Donatus Church in Calumet, some of the site’s regular attendees, Humberto and his sisters, Vanessa and Kimberly, helped me trek across the lot to pick up any left over boxes and throw them away.  Rather than retreating to someplace cooler -  the sun was directly overhead and beating down on the lot - they chose to stick around later and help me out.

I see a lot of struggling communities on my Lunch Bus route, but I also see hundreds of happy and appreciative faces. I am really touched by how so many of the children we serve are eager to help me out.

Lunch Bus intern Kertsen Kazen is currently a student at the University of Chicago where she is majoring in Economics.

For more information on the Food Depository's children's programs, visit or call 773-247-FOOD.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thousands assisted by SNAP Outreach program

Mike Blais, an AmeriCorps member, helps clients complete their applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Elizabeth is 60 years old and has never received benefits from any type of safety net program. She worked in vision care most of her life and has a loyal network of friends. A car accident with an uninsured driver left her disabled, unable to work and paying more than $700 in medical expenses each month. Her husband recently passed away from cancer and she currently lives with her mother-in-law on no income.

On a sunny Tuesday morning, Elizabeth visited the Orland Township Administration office for assistance with her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) application. Mike Blais, an AmeriCorps member working for the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach Program, was there to help.

Properly completing the SNAP application can be a process clouded by misinformation, so Food Depository staff and trained volunteers visit food pantries, older adult sites and community centers throughout Cook County to provide eligibility pre-screenings, application assistance, and education on SNAP – the safety net program formerly known as Food Stamps. Locally, the program is managed and directed by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS).

“There are a number of factors that can make it difficult for eligible clients to receive SNAP benefits,” said Mike. “The application itself is 11 pages of small print that can be very hard to fully comprehend. Also, there is an unnecessary, but very real, stigma attached to seeking and receiving SNAP benefits. It is difficult for many people to understand whether or not they are eligible for assistance programs. And the IDHS offices can only provide so much technical support given the number of applicants.”

After Elizabeth answered some pre-screening questions about her household, disability status, income, medical expenses and more; Mike guided her through each step of the application and ensured that she had all of the required identification and documentation. Based upon Elizabeth’s answers and information, Mike determined her to be potentially eligible. He submitted her complete application to DHS and explained the next steps to expect.

“By the end of a meeting with a client, I have generally dispelled some myth or misconception about SNAP benefits,” said Mike. “Many people assume that if they are working or receiving any form of income, they are ineligible; when in fact, SNAP is designed to work with low-income and no-income persons. Many people applying are underemployed, meaning they are working, but cannot earn enough money to meet their needs.”

Rose was one such client at the Orland Township Administration that day. An entrepreneur who operates a business from her home, Rose has suffered financially as her sales tumbled during the economic downturn. With very little income and depleted savings, she has been trying to support herself while providing financial assistance for her two adult daughters and her grandchildren. Rose’s earnings simply aren’t enough to keep up with her mortgage payments, insurance premiums and taxes.

Rose had applied for SNAP once before and was denied due to insufficient detail of her self-employment. On Tuesday, Mike assisted Rose as she reapplied for SNAP with proper documentation and explanation of her self-employment status.

Clients who come to SNAP Outreach sessions are connected with additional Food Depository resources.
In a few weeks, Elizabeth and Rose will receive follow-up calls from the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach staff. The purpose of these calls is to check how a client is doing with the DHS process and answer any questions that may have arisen since the application. These calls are placed only to clients who offer consent. Clients also receive information to access additional Food Depository network resources.

Next week, Mike will complete his AmeriCorps assignment at the Food Depository. During the past 11 months, he has helped hundreds of people like Elizabeth and Rose submit their SNAP applications. Last fiscal year, the Food Depository's SNAP Outreach program provided assistance to more than 3,000 households.

“This past year has made me much more knowledgeable about safety net programs, community resources, SNAP policy and of course the Food Depository,” said Mike. “Working SNAP Outreach has given me a tremendous amount of compassion for people and families who are living through difficult situations. I look forward to serving them in future endeavors.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lemonade stand raises $1,400 for hungry people

Meet Getty.  For the past seven years, Getty has been giving time and donating money to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  A long time for someone who is only 13 years old.

For years, Getty and his family have attended Kids Days and volunteer sessions - sorting produce, repackaging pasta and even doing some office work around the Food Depository.  However, donating his time was not enough for the young volunteer.  At the age of 7, Getty and his younger sister set out to raise funds for the Food Depository with a time honored classic: a lemonade stand.

With a little help from his parents, Getty set up a small, white table on the street outside his building and sold lemonade and cookies to passersby. He admits business was a little slow at first- only collecting $45 his first year - however once the word got out the funds started pouring in. Since 2006, Getty has raised more than $1,400 for the Food Depository.  That's a lot of lemonade!

When asked why he works so hard in the fight against hunger, Getty said helping people in his community makes him feel like he is doing his part.    

Kids can make a difference too!  The Greater Chicago Food Depository has volunteer opportunities for people of all ages. Contact Volunteer Services at 773-247-4232 or visit for more information today!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

“Working together to end summer hunger”

Lunch Bus intern Dalila Ramos and volunteer driver Nancy Trevarthen-Hodges distributing lunches at Miami Park in the Little Village neighborhood.
The Lunch Bus is all about teamwork.  I am the intern on the Lunch Bus Southwest route - one of three routes throughout Cook County.  We deliver more than 400 lunches a day to children in the Little Village, Brighton Park, New City, West Englewood and Douglas neighborhoods.  The bus route is very busy and I couldn’t do it without the help of the Lunch Bus drivers.

I work with five volunteers who each come in once a week to drive the Lunch Bus.   Early in the morning, Monday through Friday, the volunteers meet me at the Greater Chicago Food Depository where we make sure the refrigerated van is all stocked and then we head out to our seven stops. 
Children lined up for the Lunch Bus at Good Shepherd Parish in the Little Village neighborhood.
When we arrive at each site, the volunteer driver sets up a white table we use for the kids to sign in and to distribute the lunches. The children form a line in front of the table. I have a binder with attendance and meal count sheets.  Every child must sign in and I count every meal that is given out.  The process is really efficient because we only have 20 minutes to serve everyone and some sites can have 100 or more kids. 

I have really enjoyed being a Lunch Bus intern this summer.  It has been a fun and rewarding experience to be around the kids, talk with them and have them tell me their stories. Seeing their smiling faces every day lets me know all of our hard work is worth it.

Lunch Bus intern Dalila Ramos is currently a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she is majoring in Applied Psychology.

For more information on the Food Depository's children's programs, visit or call 773-247-FOOD.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sharing the harvest

Greater Chicago Food Depository staff and volunteers harvesting sweet corn in Marengo, Ill.
On the morning of August 4, more than 60 Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteers, staff and community members arrived at a corn field in Marengo, Ill., about an hour and a half northwest of Chicago, ready to harvest. The nearly 40 acres of donated land in McHenry County is growing sweet corn and squash - all to be donated to the Food Depository.

Dressed in jeans, t-shirts and baseball caps, the group fanned out into the field.  Row by row they picked the corn cobs off the stalks. The work is hard but the reward is great. So far this year, Food Depository volunteers and community members have harvested more than 127,000 pounds of sweet corn. One more corn harvest is scheduled for August 25 and the squash harvest is planned for this fall.  Email Eoin Dillion if you would like to volunteer.

Jim Origer of Shorewood Property Investments came up with the idea of planting corn on the donated acreage a few years ago.
Volunteers sorting and packing the harvested corn at the Food Depository warehouse.
The corn is then loaded into trucks and brought back to the Food Depository where the hard work continues. Volunteers are tasked with sorting and packing the sweet corn into boxes. The fresh vegetables are then distributed to Food Depository agencies to feed hungry people throughout Cook County.

To volunteer at an upcoming Food Depository corn or squash harvest, contact Eoin Dillon at or 773-843-7285.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"This is more than just a bus"

Lunch Bus intern Alexandra Goldman snapped this photo of children enjoying a boxed lunch at a recent Food Depository Lunch Bus stop.
Before starting my summer internship with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, I am ashamed to say how little I used to know about childhood hunger in Chicago. When I thought about hunger, and people going without food, my thoughts immediately would jump to those in the news that live in Third World countries. I hardly thought about the people living in my own city. I always knew children go hungry in Chicago, but I did not realize the extent of the issue in my own backyard.

The Lunch Bus is a Greater Chicago Food Depository program that distributes free boxed lunches to children in targeted Chicago communities during the summer. While the Lunch Bus program has been running for a few years now, this is the first time it has gone to the Belmont-Cragin, Austin, West Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park communities that are on my route. We make seven stops every day, and at each stop I have met some truly remarkable people: children who eat the lunches, parents who bring their kids, and various community members who assist at the sites.

One of my favorite moments every day is arriving at Iglesia Evangelica in the morning, seeing the blue blanket set out and the kids lined up waiting for us. They all like to sit picnic style, together on that blanket, enjoying their lunches while the parents chat along the sidewalk.

When I first applied for the Lunch Bus internship, I thought all I would be doing was riding around in a van delivering food to kids.  Now I realize this is so much more than that. I also get to make them smile, help parents by alleviating the struggle to provide three meals a day and assist in educating kids on nutrition and healthy options. Not only am I playing a strong role in a large number of families’ lives this summer, but they are shaping my life as well.

Lunch Bus intern Alexandra Goldman is going into her junior year at Wesleyan University where she is majoring in Psychology. 

For more information on the Food Depository's children programs, visit or call 773-247-FOOD.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bring a donation to 2012 Chicago Bears Training Camp

Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteer Antoinette Wheeler collecting donations at the 2012 Chicago Bears Training Camp.
As Chicago Bears players, coaches and fans gear up for another season of touchdowns, tackles and football stats - the Greater Chicago Food Depository has a stat we want all Chicagoans to keep in mind.

The number of food insecure people in Cook County could fill more than 13 Soldier Fields.  More than 807,000 individuals - 1 in 6 - in our community do not know when or where their next meal is coming from.

You can help us end hunger our community.  This year the Food Depository has teamed up with FOX Chicago and the Northern Illinois Food Bank to collect nonperishable food items and monetary donations at the Chicago Bears Training Camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Il.  Click here for the schedule.

If you are planning to see the Chicago Bears at Training Camp this summer, remember to "Do it for Chicago" and bring a donation.  Your generosity will help feed hungry people in our community.

Not able to make it to the Chicago Bears Training Camp this year?  You still can make a donation here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Community project provides produce to low-income Rogers Park families

Lourdes Sancen and her son, Edgar, picking out produce at the Jordan Community School in Rogers Park.
Five-year-old Edgar loves to eat corn, broccoli and carrots. "He would eat them everyday.  He loves them," said his mother Lourdes Sancen. However rising food prices, lack of transportation and a difficult job market have made it difficult for the Rogers Park mom to put vegetables on the table. "It is so expensive," she said.

Lourdes and her son are one of 30 families - 110 individuals - taking part in a new community program aimed at increasing the amount of locally grown, fresh produce consumed by Rogers Park residents.

Funded through a grant from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Community Shares Project is a collaboration between two Food Depository partner agencies, St. Ignatius Food Pantry and Christopher House, and the Glenwood Sunday Market, a local farmers market. Every Monday the program, which launched July 9, visits three Rogers Park elementary schools (New Field Elementary, Jordan Community School and Gale Academy) on a rotating basis, distributing produce and providing nutrition education.
Produce is collected from farmers during the Glenwood Sunday Market and is biked to the different sites by volunteers.
On this day at the Jordan Community School, a long table was piled high with fresh produce - bunches of carrots, cartons of tomatoes and piles of sweet corn - nearly 150 pounds in total.

"The produce comes from three local farms: Fat Blossom Farm, Midnight Sun Farm and Montalbano Farms," said Ann Hinterman, manager of Glenwood Sunday Market. "The produce is purchased from the farmers and then distributed to the families at the different schools. So not only does this help the families but we are supporting the farmers as well."

The program begins with a multi-lingual education program featuring nutritional information about the produce. Healthy recipes are provided to help the families prepare and enjoy locally grown, fresh vegetables and fruit.
St. Ignatius Pantry Director Kathy Morris speaking to the families about the nutritional benefits of kale while passing around a plate for the parents and children to taste.
Similar to the other program sites, the Jordan Community School has a 98 percent poverty rate according to Vice Principal Cindy Zucker. "These families struggle to make ends meet and this community is hurting economically. So anything we can do to fill those basic needs is a huge help," said Cindy.

This was the second Monday that Blanca Quiroz and her four children attended the produce program at the Jordan Community School. Blanca has lived in Rogers Park for 14 years and says this new program has been a big help to her family. "The vegetables are so fresh," she said. "The kids really like it."

Blanca Quiroz and her son Felipe at the Community Shares Project at the Jordan Community School.
At the end of each event, the families walk down the produce table and pick out fresh vegetables and fruit to take home. Volunteers also hand out tokens for the families to exchange for more produce at the Glenwood Sunday Market.  

"We could not have done this without the help of the Greater Chicago Food Depository," said Kathy Morris, pantry director for St. Ignatius Food Pantry. "We are so pleased at how successful the program has been and how many families we have been able to reach."

The Community Shares Project is funded with the grant from the Greater Chicago Food Depository and is supported by the Rogers Park Business Alliance and Ald. Joe Moore. For more information about the Community Shares Project, visit

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ACTION ALERT: Protect federal nutrition assistance programs

More than 820,000 people in Cook County turn to SNAP to access nutritious food.
This morning, the House Committee on Agriculture is discussing its version of the 2012 Farm Bill.  The Farm Bill is an important piece of legislation which administers and authorizes the majority of federal funding for nutrition assistance programs, including The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, (which provides USDA commodities to food banks) and SNAP (also known as Food Stamps). 

Last week, we saw the provisions of the House committee draft of the bill, and we were disheartened to see severe and far-reaching cuts to SNAP, a program that nearly 46.2 million people across the country depend on to access food, including more than 820,000 people in Cook County.  These proposed cuts would devastate the food safety net through reductions in funding for SNAP by almost $16.5 billion over 10 years, which would result in 500,000 Americans seeing a reduction of $90 every month in their benefits, and 2 to 3 million Americans losing their food assistance entirely. 

These cuts would drastically reduce the ability of low-income individuals to feed themselves and their families.  Take action TODAY against these cuts, your voice can make a difference!  Go to our Advocacy Center to take action and ask your Representative in Congress to oppose cuts to vital nutrition programs like SNAP in the Farm Bill.  Hungry people in our communities turn to these programs to put food on the table each month!