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.