Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The power and promise of the Hunger Walk

Last week I saw a man in a Hunger Walk T-shirt. That in and of itself isn’t noteworthy. Last month, a woman in front of me at the grocery store was wearing a T-shirt from the 2007 Walk. And a few weeks before that, I noticed a man on the treadmill at my gym wearing a volunteer shirt from the 2009 event.

But this wasn’t my local grocery, the gym, or any of the other sites across Cook County where I’ve seen Hunger Walk T-shirts. Instead, this man in this Hunger Walk T-shirt was in the heart of Austin, a neighborhood torn apart by gang rivalries and poverty. The man neared a street corner carrying a bag that I knew probably came from a food pantry - plastic with sturdy handles and filled with groceries.

There are many reasons why people participate in the Hunger Walk. They walk for children and older adults. They walk for parents who are struggling to make ends meet. They walk for neighbors - they “do it for Chicago.” But as I watched the gentleman in the Hunger Walk T-shirt, I was reminded that one of the most sobering - and, indeed, most important parts of this event - is that some of the walkers who will join us on Saturday are actually walking for themselves.

The Food Depository’s Hunger Walk - 27 years and tens of thousands of people strong - is the rare event that gives a voice and opportunity to the very people we serve. As the light changed and my car moved through the intersection, I was reminded that the strength of this event is in the people who join us. They come from all walks of life - men, women, children, older adults, people who sprint the entire 5K course and people who rely on wheelchairs. They are current and past employees of the Greater Chicago Food Depository as well as regular volunteers. They are members of corporate walking teams and faith-based organizations. They are elected officials, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. They are Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party members and Occupy members. They are the food secure - those of us who have never faced the pressing worry of where we would get the food for our next meal. And, as I was reminded last week, they are also the food insecure - one of the more than 807,000 men, women and children in our community who struggles daily with hunger.

That is the power and the promise of our event - and our work. Together we can walk, and together we can build a world that is hunger free. So, this Saturday, as I join my colleagues, friends, family and fellow advocates at the 27th Annual Hunger Walk, I’ll remember the gentleman I saw at the corner of Laramie Avenue and Lake Street and remember that we don’t just walk for him - we walk with him. Visit to support the walk.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hunger affects both young and old

Marcella Rucker (left) enjoys dinner with her grandchildren at the Food Depository's Clyde Park Pilot Program.
Marcella Rucker can't help but smile as she sits down to a meal with her grandchildren, a meal made possible by the Greater Chicago Food Depository

Marcella and her family are one of dozens of grandparents and grandchildren who gather Monday through Friday for a free meal at the Clyde Park District of Cicero. The dinner is part of a Food Depository pilot program that provides healthy, nutritious meals for local older adults 60 years and older and children under the age of 18.

"The pilot program was created in response to the growing number of grandparents raising grandchildren or grandparents who play a larger financial role in caring for their grandchildren in Cook County," said Adam McGriffin, Older Adult Services Coordinator for the Food Depository. 

Two recent studies show children and older adults are populations susceptible to hunger and food insecurity in Cook County: 
  • A Feeding America study released last week found 1 in 5 children in Cook County is food insecure and doesn't know when or where they will receive their next meal. 
  • A Food Depository commissioned study released last month, shows 89 percent of federal food assistance for low-income older adults in Chicago and 92 percent in suburban Cook County comes from SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps).
Larry Starnes and his grandson attend the Clyde Park District Pilot Porgram nightly.

"The meal means a lot to me and my grandson," said Larry Starnes.  He and his grandson try to make the Clyde Park District meal as much as they can.  "We are so thankful for it.  It is one thing for you to go to bed hungry, but it is hard to see my grandson hungry.  This really helps us all get by."

For more information on Food Depository programs for older adults and children visit or call 773-247-FOOD.

Friday, June 8, 2012

No child should go hungry this summer

One in five children in Cook County don't know where their next meal is coming from.
Ismael Garcia and his mother Irma are one of more than 200 families who come to the Healthy Kids Market at Calmeca Academy near Brighton Park each week.  The free market, with fresh produce and nonperishable food provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, offers low-income families a selection of healthy food items to take home and make wholesome meals for their families.

"A lot of our children come from families that are struggling to eat," said Calmeca Academy Principal Frances Garcia.  "For some of our students, this market is the only access to fruits and veggies they have."

Parent volunteers help pass out fresh fruit and veggies at Healthy Kids Markets locations throughout Cook County each week.
Child food insecurity is an on-going issue in Cook County.  The Food Depository, along with Feeding America, just released data showing more than 21 percent of children - 1 in 5 kids - in Cook County are food insecure. Out of eligible Illinois children, only 1 in 6 take advantage of free summer food programs available to them.

Thankfully, this year the Food Depository and other organizations are teaming up with Share Our Strength to raise awareness of free summer meal programs to ensure no child has to go hungry when school is out.

Check out these new tools to find the nearest free summer meal location:
More information visit

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mission: Food Rescue

150 volunteers + 50 shopping carts scouring 540,000 square feet = 55,000 pounds of food for struggling Cook County families.

Recently Greater Chicago Food Depository staff and hundreds of volunteers scoured 2012 National Restaurant Association Show at McCormick Place on a mission to rescue food.  Armed with carts and donation stickers the teams of volunteers made their way through rows and rows of vendors, picking up everything from large rounds of cheese, cases of smoked salmon to frozen calamari.  If you've ever seen the show Supermarket Sweep, you get the idea!
The Food Depository collected XX pounds of food.
Chicago is host to many food shows during the year, bringing tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of thousands of pounds of food.  At the end of each event there are always left-overs.  A lot of left-overs.

"These shows bring in so much food for the Food Depository," said Julian Blementhal, long-time food show volunteer and 2012 Food Depository Volunteer of the Year.  "We come in just as the show is breaking down and grab as much food as we can."

"It's very fast-paced," added Den Czurylo, another veteran food show volunteer.  "You grab the food then bring it back to bins where we sort what we can take looking for healthy, nutritional food.  Then we pack it up in totes, put it on trucks and send it back to the Food Depository."
150 volunteers came out for the 2012 NRA Show.
"You just feel so good once it's over knowing how much you have collected for the hungry people of Chicago," said volunteer Beverly Minister.  "I have been volunteering at the food show for eight years and it's why I come back every year."

The Greater Chicago Food Depository is already gearing up for the next food rescue mission: the KeHE Food Show on Tuesday, June 12.  Volunteers are always needed to help out at food shows and other events.  Help the Food Depository make strides in the fight against hunger by going to or email