Tuesday, December 24, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: One wish

Orlando has been living at the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter since July 2012.
Orlando Collins does not have a wish list this Christmas. He doesn’t want any electronics, or movies, or books. He doesn’t need the latest fashion, or the newest toy.

He just wants a warm place to sleep, a roof over his head, and a hot meal.

Orlando is living at the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood. He’s been there since July 2012, when he lost his job at a car wash, and the building he was living in got foreclosed on.

“It was the first time I had been out on the street,” Orlando said. “I had nowhere to go. I knew I had to go to a shelter. I was making about $500 per week at the car wash, but without that it wasn’t possible to pay rent. When it rains, it pours I guess.”

At the Franciscan House, which is a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency, Orlando receives hot meals twice a day. The food is prepared with ingredients received from the Food Depository’s Food Rescue program, which delivers perishable items that are near their sell-by dates that grocery stores would have discarded.

The shelter has been getting Food Rescue food for about four months. Previously, residents ate soup and a sandwich every meal.

“To know that you can come and get a warm bed, and a hot meal, it really puts a smile on your face,” Orlando said. “It makes you feel good after you’ve been outside all day.”

Since he started staying at the shelter, Orlando has begun to get back on his feet. He got his food safety certification, and now has a job as a dishwasher. He’s beginning to save some money, he got help applying for SNAP and he also volunteers occasionally in the shelter’s kitchen.

While Orlando doesn't want presents for Christmas, he does have one wish. 

“I really just want my own place to live,” he said. “That’s what makes a difference. And this year, I think I can make that happen.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: A holiday meal

Marguerite Jacobs lives in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood and receives food from a Mobile Pantry distribution near her home.
Christmas was only days away, and Marguerite Jacobs feared she wouldn’t have anything to put on the table for her four children.

Unemployed, Marguerite has been looking for a job for months with no luck. She struggles to get by, and tries to make ends meet with the $400 she gets per month in SNAP benefits. But, it’s nearly the end of the month, and her benefits were almost gone.

“I don’t get the new SNAP benefits until the seventh of each month,” she said. “What can I do? What am I going to do in the meantime to feed my family?”

Marguerite lives on the far South Side of Chicago in Altgeld Gardens; a community isolated on three sides by a wastewater treatment facility, the Little Calumet River, and the Bishop Ford Freeway. Because of its location, nearby food is expensive, and getting to full grocery stores can be difficult.

“A lot of people who live here don’t have a way to the store at all,” Marguerite said. “Taking two or three buses and then trying to carry groceries back just doesn’t work.”

On Thursday, Marguerite found out she would not need to worry about her holiday meals. A Greater Chicago Food Depository Mobile Pantry at Altgeld Gardens distributed fresh fruit, vegetables, shelf-stable items, and turkeys.

“This is an absolute blessing,” Marguerite said. “With prices going up, turkeys around here cost at least $65. I just can’t afford that.”

Now, Marguerite will have a meal to serve her family on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

“I’ll cut it in half, cook one half for Christmas and then save the other half for the following week,” she said. It’s just an incredible gift.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Food for families

Araceli Escobedo with two of her daughters, Karina and Giselle, at the Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy Healthy Kids Market.
For Araceli Escobedo, the Healthy Kids Market at Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy in the Archer Heights neighborhood isn’t only convenient, it’s a huge help.

Healthy Kids Markets are market-style food distributions in schools in high-need areas across Chicago. The program is a collaboration between the Food Depository and Chicago Public Schools. Any family with children at the school is eligible to receive food. At Gunsaulus, fresh fruit and vegetables, plus shelf-stable items, are distributed every Thursday. Four of Araceli’s children go to the school, so when she picks them up on Thursdays, she is able to get food she otherwise might not be able to afford.

“It’s a really big help,” she said. “In the winter time, vegetables just get so expensive in the stores. It’s just difficult to afford that right now.”

Araceli and her husband own a home near the school. Her husband works full-time as a mechanic, but she recently lost her job. The couple is struggling to support their children, and the Healthy Kids Market makes that easier.

“My kids love fruit and vegetables, so I try to make sure I’m at the distribution every Thursday,” Araceli said.

For many individuals in Cook County struggling with food insecurity, the winter months can be even more difficult, as utility bills increase. That’s the case for Araceli, who has just started to see a spike in costs.

“It’s pretty tough,” she said. “Between the mortgage, and the bills, it’s hard. So when I have to buy food, I have to shop the sales. That’s why this food is really important.”

The Healthy Kids Market at Gunsaulus has only been operating since September, but word of the program has already spread. The distribution is averaging nearly 200 individuals per week.

Friday, December 6, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Overcoming tough times

Maria Rodriguez receives food from the Alvernia Food Pantry in Elmwood Park.
Two years ago, Maria Rodriguez and her family ran into difficult times.

She and her husband had been working full-time and they were able to support their children. But, around the same time, the couple got sick and could no longer work.

“When that happened, it was really hard. It was rough,” she said.

Struggling to feed her family with just disability, Maria decided to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. While the family was accepted into the program, the benefits quickly dropped from $92 per month, then to $72, because of her two daughters’ incomes.

“They’re paying our rent right now because we can’t work,” Maria said. “They take care of rent and my husband and I pay the bills, but everything is expensive, so it’s difficult.”

Because of a slight increase in income, the family’s SNAP benefits recently dropped to zero. That’s when Maria started coming to the Alvernia Food Pantry in Elmwood Park.

“I come to the pantry now because the kids need to be fed,” Maria said.

The pantry, one of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s member agencies, serves nearly 100 families per month. On her most recent visit to the pantry, Maria received large boxes of shelf-stable items, plus two bags full of frozen meat.

“This stuff is what keeps us going,” she said. “It’s been a great help.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Thanksgiving

Anna Donegan visits the Union Avenue UMC food pantry in Canaryville.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Anna Donegan was not preparing a meal for the upcoming holiday. She was not baking cookies, or peeling potatoes, or roasting a turkey. Instead, she was waiting in line at a food pantry on Chicago’s South Side.

Anna, 29, was recently laid off from her full-time waitressing job in the city. She used to receive $450 per month in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, but recently her benefits dropped to $300.

“$150 per month less might not seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly,” she said.

To support her family of four, especially during the holidays, Anna gets food from the Union Avenue UMC Church food pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in Canaryville.

“I don’t have enough money or food stamps to afford much for Thanksgiving, so anything that I get today is going to go a long way towards making tomorrow better,” she said.

At the pantry, Anna receives fresh produce, bread, meat, and canned goods. After she is done choosing her groceries, she bundles up, preparing to head out into a frigid November morning. She smiles.

“This food is just a huge help,” she said. “It helps make Thanksgiving bright.”

1 in 6 men, women, and children in Cook County don't know where their next meal is coming from. Be the 1 to help, and tell Chicago that #No1ShouldGoHungry.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Greater Chicago Food Depository launches 'No 1 Should Go Hungry' campaign

On Monday, the Greater Chicago Food Depository launched an awareness campaign that aims to convey a simple, clear, and powerful message: No 1 Should Go Hungry.

The campaign’s central message aims to highlight the fact that 1 in 6 Chicagoans faces hunger every day: “We have 1 goal. 1 mission. To fight hunger 1 dollar, 1 meal, 1 person at a time. Until the day that No 1 Goes Hungry.”

The campaign will be rolled out on billboards, public transportation, online, and radio throughout Cook County. A pro bono effort by Leo Burnett Chicago, “No 1 Should Go Hungry” will run until December 31. 

The Food Depository held a rally at the Merchandise Mart Monday morning to kick off the campaign, and to kick off the Food Depository’s annual 1 City, 1 Food Drive effort.

“This is a powerful, direct call to action, and it is an opportunity for all Chicagoans to get involved,” said Kate Maehr, Food Depository Executive Director and CEO. “We are grateful to Leo Burnett for their creative support in developing the campaign.”

This year’s 1 City, 1 Food Drive goal is to collect 1 million pounds of food. 

To get involved in the fight against hunger this holiday season, donate to the Food Depository online, change your Facebook or Twitter picture to a "1" or find public food drop-off locations at our food drive website

Friday, November 22, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'I never expected to be in this situation'

Kerryn Slawson, 50, has been receiving food at Moraine Valley Community Church for nearly a year.
Not long ago, Kerryn Slawson was making $100,000 per year at a job in transportation.

“I was always the person that people came to for food,” she said. “My friends, family, would say, ‘I need some help, do you have anything to spare?’ And I’d give them plenty.”

About a year ago, Kerryn lost her job. And, she was recently given custody of her sister’s seven and 11-year-old daughters, after their mother passed away. Now, Kerryn, 50, struggles to feed her own three sons, and her sister’s children. So, she gets food assistance twice a month from the Moraine Valley Community Church food pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in Palos Hills.

“I never expected to be in this situation,” Kerryn said. “But you’ve got to deal with it somehow. This food helps me do that.”

She receives fresh produce, nonperishable items, and meat at the pantry.

“The pantry has been just awesome,” she said. “I’d starve if it meant the kids could eat, but with the pantry I don’t have to do that.”

Kerryn is working assorted jobs while she looks for full-time employment.

“I need a full-time job really badly. Anything helps, but it’s just that no one is hiring right now,” she said.

On a recent Thursday, Kerryn was just one of nearly 30 people waiting in line outside the food pantry before it opened. In October, the pantry served nearly 600 people, a record for the 13-year-old agency.

“There are so many working poor,” said pantry coordinator Beth Heinrich. “Some of the people we see have two or three jobs but still have trouble.”

Help the Food Depository provide meals for the 1 in 6 who are hungry in Cook County. Donate now!

Friday, November 15, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: A new chance

Teresa Hamilton poses with Chicago's Community Kitchens Director Paul Le Beau and Food Depository Executive Director and CEO Kate Maehr after receiving her diploma.
Teresa Hamilton struggled with unemployment for a long time. She wasn’t the person she had always hoped she would be. She had been to jail, and didn’t have much drive in life.

But that changed when she was accepted into the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Chicago’s Community Kitchens program.

“The program completely changed my life,” Teresa said. “It gave me my life back and made me a better person.”

Chicago’s Community Kitchens is a 14-week training program for underemployed and unemployed individuals. The program prepares students for a career in the foodservice industry.

For Teresa, the program was a wakeup call. Every day, she needed to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to make sure she got to the Food Depository on time.

“I learned, rather quickly, that we have to be accountable for our actions,” she said. “We have to step up and take charge of our lives if we want to succeed.”

That’s exactly what Teresa did. She spent hours in the kitchen learning knife skills, how to bake, grill, and measure ingredients. She also learned proper food handling techniques. Outside of the kitchen, she overcame struggles with culinary math, and graduated from the program this fall. She was the class speaker, and is now employed at J&L Catering, one of Chicago’s premier catering companies.

“The CCK staff often said, ‘Today is the first day of your life,’” Teresa said. “Every day, we took a step towards graduation, and all those steps have added up to one huge accomplishment.”

Learn more about Chicago's Community Kitchens or apply online at chicagosfoodbank.org/cck.

Greater Chicago Food Depository CFO Don Tusek named CFO of the Year

Don Tusek has been CFO at the Greater Chicago Food Depository since 2010.
Greater Chicago Food Depository Chief Financial Officer Don Tusek has been named the CFO of the Year by the Chicago chapter of the Financial Executives International.

Don was chosen amongst seven finalists in the not-for-profit mid-size company category at Thursday’s 3rd Annual Chicago CFO of the Year Awards.

“The award really says so much about the organization,” Don said. “We believe no one should go hungry, and certainly everyone can relate to that.”

Don has been CFO at the Food Depository since June 2010. He has 25 years of financial experience and has, throughout his career, had the opportunity to lead cost cutting initiatives, improve cash flow and improve profitability. Most recently at the Food Depository, Don orchestrated a shift away from the shared maintenance model, allowing agencies served by the Food Depository to pay nothing for donated food and devote more resources to programs and initiatives.

“We’re so proud of Don,” said Kate Maehr, Food Depository Executive Director and CEO. “Over the last three years, his skills and guidance have helped the Food Depository more efficiently achieve our mission of providing food for hungry people.”

Don has an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign and an MBA from Indiana University. He is also a registered CPA. He and his wife Nancy have two daughters, and live in Downers Grove. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What $36 can buy: SNAP families face a lot less food

Twelve days ago, families who receive SNAP--in Illinois Link--started the month with less money for food than the previous month. For a family of four, that meant $36 less to spend in November than in October. A part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that had increased food stamp benefits in 2009 expired as of Nov. 1. For families with limited incomes, $36 is a lot of money. I decided to go shopping for $36 worth of food to see firsthand the impact of the ARRA rollback.

For starters, I chose to go to a discount grocery store, where frugal SNAP shoppers likely would use their benefits. I paid 25 cents to use a cart--25 cents that would return to me upon return of the cart. I wheeled the cart in and began thinking about what I would buy for my family on a weekly trip. I started with a bag of oranges for $3.99 and moved down the aisle to an area with peanut butter and jelly. Next was produce, and I loaded my cart with bananas (a bunch for 54 cents!), broccoli, carrots and celery. These would go well with a number of meals, as I had plans to buy rice and pasta as well. I selected quite a few canned goods, including black beans which were just 59 cents each. Often, low-income families rely on canned protein products in lieu of more expensive fresh cuts of meat. I chose two cans of chicken soup, knowing that people who work multiple jobs--like many SNAP users--might not have time to make fresh soups from stock. I was able to get a 5-pound bag of potatoes for $2.49--potatoes, though high in carbs, are a versatile food and would last a while.

When I got to the register, I paid for four bags, thinking that I could fit all the food in two bags (double-bagged). My total was $35.89, and the two bags ended up nearly bursting at the seams. The conclusion: a $36 cut is a major cut. The amount of food I bought (pictured above) is quite a lot of food. People have asked us 'have you seen an impact yet?' The truth is we won't see an impact until the end of this month, when those SNAP dollars are dwindling faster than the month before. Then it's likely we'll see longer pantry lines.

As if a coda to the whole experience, a man approached me in the parking lot as I turned my cart toward the front of the store. I thought he was an employee and then realized that he was waiting in hopes of getting my 25 cent deposit. I gave him the cart, and he smiled his appreciation as he headed to get the refund--and likely, some food.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Greater Chicago Food Depository, Jesse Brown VA, AmeriCorps launch veterans food pantry

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (second from left) and representatives from the City of Chicago, AmeriCorps, and Greater Chicago Food Depository cut the ribbon to open the veterans pantry on Monday.
David Rogers, a U.S. Army Veteran, sees the need for hunger-relief in the veteran community first hand. David volunteers at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center five days a week, and will also help out at the new veterans food pantry.

“There’s an absolute need for a food pantry at the VA,” he said. “To be able to supplement veterans’ diets with fresh food like this is what I call ‘soul food.’”

David is disabled and unable to work. He will also receive food from the weekly distribution.

“Anything that can support the daily needs that I have is a huge help,” he said. “Getting additional food like this balances things out, it makes it easier to live.”

The veterans pantry at the Jesse Brown VA is a collaboration between the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, and AmeriCorps. Launched on Monday, it is the first of its kind in Illinois, and one of the only food pantries for veterans in the country that is actually at a VA facility.
David Rogers, U.S. Army Veteran, will volunteer and receive food from the pantry.
The pantry will distribute fresh produce and shelf-stable items every Tuesday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. It is managed by TaQuoya Kennedy, a Food Depository AmeriCorps member and Air Force Veteran. The pantry is expected to serve approximately 800 veterans per month.

For David, the veterans pantry at Jesse Brown VA has been a long time coming. He has been coming to the facility for medical care since 1966. David considers the facility a second home, and thinks of the staff and fellow veterans as a second family. While the pantry is certainly helping David get the nutritious food he needs, he is ultimately involved with the effort because of the pride he feels in helping other veterans.

“We have those moments when we have a purpose, when we have meaning again,” David said. “This pantry, helping out here, this is one of those moments.” 

Friday, November 8, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'Our fridge is empty'

Jose Lopez and his children head home after receiving fresh produce at the children's school.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Jose Lopez was picking his children up from school in the Pilsen neighborhood. He was also picking up food for his family.

“Our fridge is literally empty right now. I don’t know what we’d do without this,” Jose said.

Jose was attending a Healthy Kids Market distribution, which is a market-style food distribution inside schools across Cook County. He was receiving fresh fruit and vegetables, including oranges, apples, pears, peppers, potatoes, and carrots. He was also receiving shelf-stable items at the distribution.

Jose is working two jobs, one in maintenance and one at a storage company. He has four school-age children, which he and his wife are raising. Because of Jose’s two jobs, the family does not qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, but they are still struggling.

“Trying to pay the bills, paying rent, utilities, all the maintenance and daily expenses, plus raising children, it’s hard to get by,” he said.

But, with help from Food Depository programs like the Healthy Kids Market, Jose is able to keep his children fed, and ensure their success in school.

“My children are all honor roll students, and it’s in large part because of the food we get here,” Jose said. “It keeps them going.”

Friday, November 1, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Supporting veterans

Michael attended a Veterans Stand Down at the General Jones Armory last summer.
Michael White, 57, served in the military overseas for nine years and is now homeless. 

He has been in and out of the hospital, and went to a Veterans Stand Down event on the South Side of Chicago to get a healthy meal, provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Chicago’s Community Kitchens program.

“Events like this make (veterans) feel appreciated,” Michael says. “I’m hungry, but this meal makes it better.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 18,000 veterans in Cook County living below the poverty level. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is expanding its veterans outreach in order to meet the increased need. 

In fiscal year 2013-2014, the Food Depository aims to provide hot meals to 800 Veterans and distribute 2,000 takeaway food bags at Stand Down events. Further, the Food Depository is partnering with the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and AmeriCorps to open a choice-model food pantry for Veterans on Veterans Day.

Friday, October 25, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Bracing for change

Crystal Cochran receives more than $500 in SNAP benefits per month, and gets fresh fruit, vegetables and canned goods from St. James Food Pantry.
As lawmakers prepare to debate the Farm Bill, which will likely include cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Crystal Cochran, 27, knows that any reduction in benefits would make it more difficult for her family to afford food.

“I receive just over $500 in food stamps every month,” she said. “I try to make due, but cuts would be hard.”

Crystal used to work full-time in retail, but was laid off recently. She now works 20 hours per week in home healthcare. She struggles to feed her 4 and 8-year-old children, and receives assistance from the St. James Food Pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

“I run out of food stamps before the end of the month all the time, so this helps me bridge the gap,” she said.

She comes to the pantry twice a month. She receives fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat, which helps feed her growing children.

“I don’t know what I would do living without it. I just wouldn’t have enough food otherwise,” she said.

Crystal remains upbeat, despite potential cuts to SNAP, and the loss of her full-time job.

“I volunteer at my children’s school and at the food pantry,” she said. “Like the food I get at St. James, that helps me live.”

On November 1, automatic cuts to SNAP will go into effect because of the expiration of the 2009 Stimulus. Benefits for every SNAP household will decline. Independent of the Nov. 1 decrease, lawmakers will begin debating SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill on Wednesday. The House has suggested cutting $40 billion from the program, while the Senate's bill would slash $4 billion in SNAP funding.

Any cuts to SNAP will create an increase in need. Join us in telling lawmakers that cutting federal nutrition safety net programs is unacceptable.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Volunteers harvest corn, squash at local farm

A Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteer harvests corn in Marengo.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository is committed to distributing fresh produce to its member agencies. For the second consecutive fiscal year, one third of the Food Depository’s distribution was fresh produce. That produce comes to the Food Depository in a variety of ways – from distributors, to wholesalers, to growers. While all donation avenues are critical, one is particularly hands on: the annual corn and squash harvest.

Each summer, because of a generous landowner, Food Depository staff and volunteers travel to a farm in Marengo, Illinois, to harvest sweet corn and squash directly from the fields. Once harvested, the corn and squash are placed on a Food Depository truck and are brought back to the warehouse, where they are sorted and distributed just days later via the Producemobile.

This year, more than 100 volunteers harvested approximately 84,500 pounds of corn across 10 acres and thousands of pounds of squash on 3.5 acres. Thank you to all those who volunteered, as you helped bring fresh produce to hungry men, women, and children in Cook County!

If you'd like to get involved in the fight against hunger by volunteering at Food Depository events or in our warehouse, visit chicagosfoodbank.org.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Farm Bill debate set to restart

If SNAP funding is cut, more individuals will be forced to turn to food assistance programs.
Starting October 30, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. from both the House of Representatives and the Senate will meet in a conference committee to construct a Farm Bill that can be agreed upon by both chambers. There is still much uncertainty surrounding the final makeup of the legislation. However, any proposal is likely to include cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Currently, the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill suggests $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts, while the House’s version includes $40 billion in cuts. The conference committee will be tasked with reconciling these two proposals. No specific timeline for a decision has been announced, but lawmakers are emphasizing passage of a bill before the next budget deadline. The Greater Chicago Food Depository opposes any cuts to SNAP, as it is clear that any cut to the program would create an increase in need across the country and would potentially erase the first line of defense against hunger for millions of men, women, and children.

As lawmakers debate the Farm Bill in conference committee, it is critical legislators know how devastating any cut to SNAP would be. The Food Depository regularly advocates for continued funding for federal nutrition safety net programs, and you can lift your voice and join us in this effort by contacting your lawmakers to tell them cuts to SNAP are unacceptable.

To learn more about the Food Depository’s advocacy efforts, and find ways to get involved, visit chicagosfoodbank.org/advocate

Friday, October 18, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Securing a bright future

Dave Rauch receives food from a Greater Chicago Food Depository Mobile Pantry in Chicago Heights.
“I just want my family to have a good life. I want my kids to have a better life than I had,” said Dave Rauch, 54.

That’s why Dave was standing in line at a Greater Chicago Food Depository Mobile Pantry in South Suburban Chicago Heights recently.

“I’ve got to be the supporter of my three kids and wife,” he said. “I’ve got to do anything I can to not sink. The food I get here helps my family stay afloat.”

Dave has two teenage daughters and a six-year-old son. One daughter wants to be an engineer. She is a sophomore in high school, and has already been contacted by college recruiters. Dave’s other daughter hopes to be a teacher after going to community college, and Dave’s son just started first grade.

The food Dave receives at the Mobile Pantry allows him to support his children’s dreams.

“Everything helps,” he said. “What I get here lets us hold back from going to the grocery store and lets us stretch the food we have even more.”

Dave turns to the food distribution for assistance because he was recently laid off from his union construction job, which he held for more than 30 years. Now, he is working full time as a welder in a factory. But he still has trouble making ends meet.

“It’s tough out there because there are so few jobs available,” he said. “But I’m doing what I can to make sure my kids have a bright future.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How is the government shutdown affecting food assistance programs?

Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and in children are in jeopardy of losing their food assistance if the government shutdown continues.
As the federal government shutdown continues, vital programs in our nation’s food and nutrition safety net are jeopardized.

In Illinois, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is funded through the end of the month. Currently, USDA contingency funding and state money is keeping the program operational. However, if the government shutdown continues until November 1, many of the 280,000 individuals in Illinois who use the WIC program could see suspended benefits.

Similarly, households using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will continue to receive their benefits through October. But, if the shutdown continues, SNAP will cease operations on November 1. For the more than 2 million individuals on SNAP in Illinois, any benefits currently on a Link card will remain there, but no new benefits will be deposited into a recipient’s account.

Also on November 1, independent of the shutdown’s effects, the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to SNAP funding will expire. This decrease means the maximum benefit for all SNAP households will shrink. For a household of one, the maximum benefit will drop $11. For a household of two, the maximum benefit will decrease $20, for a household of three, the benefit will decrease $29, and it will drop $36 for a household of four.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository strongly opposes any cuts to nutrition programs, regardless of whether the programs terminate operations because of the shutdown, or see funding cut due to legislator action. These programs are the first line of defense against hunger in the United States for millions of men, women, and children. Any lapse or reduction in funding would create an increase in need.

To find out more about the Food Depository’s legislative advocacy efforts, visit chicagosfoodbank.org/advocate.

Friday, October 11, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'We just don't have enough money for food'

Monica works 40 hours per week, but still struggles to afford food for her family.
Monica Galvan lives in Streamwood, and works 40 hours per week in a minimum wage healthcare job, while her husband works at a moving company. Despite both of their jobs, the couple struggles to feed their 13-year-old and 4-year-old sons.

“By the time we’re done paying our gas, electricity, and other utility bills, we just don’t have enough money for food,” Monica said.

The family receives fresh fruit, vegetables, canned goods, and protein at the Church of the Holy Spirit Food Pantry in nearby Schaumburg.

"We absolutely rely on food pantries or else we would really struggle to eat, period,” Monica said.

The food pantry serves approximately 2,000 individuals per month, many of which have part-time and full-time jobs.

Friday, October 4, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Building skills for success

Marco Lopez graduated from the Chicago's Community Kitchens program in September.
Marco Lopez, 22, is driven and passionate about succeeding. He always aspired to be a chef, but his plans were derailed in March, when he was let go from his job at a catering company.

Unable to find a job and struggling to make ends meet, he discovered the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Chicago’s Community Kitchens program.

“If I hadn’t found CCK, I might still be looking for a job. There’s just nothing available right now,” he said.
Chicago’s Community Kitchens is a 14-week foodservice training program for unemployed and underemployed individuals. The program gives students a solid foundation in food preparation, as well as professional skills training, such as resume building.

Marco saw CCK as a lifeline, a chance to improve his skills while opening up new opportunities in his future.
“I just want to get better at what I’m doing,” he said.

During the 14-week program, Marco needed to arrive at the Food Depository every weekday by 7:30 a.m. He worked in the kitchen, learning how to chop, grill, sauté, and measure food. He also worked in the classroom, passing required culinary math tests, and earning his ServSafe food sanitation certificate.

After finishing the day around 3:30 p.m., Marco started his second day – to make money to support himself, he delivered newspapers from 8 p.m. – 2 a.m. every day, before getting up around 5 a.m. to start over again.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “But it was absolutely worth it. Getting more experience in the kitchen is really important to me.”

Marco’s efforts were rewarded. He graduated from the Chicago’s Community Kitchens program in September and is now working at Farmhouse Restaurant in Evanston.

“It’s all about being dedicated. This program gave me more experience, more confidence and a drive to be better. It was great.”

For more information on the Chicago's Community Kitchens program, visit chicagosfoodbank.org.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Food Depository launches 'Spot Our Truck' social media challenge

Every day, the Greater Chicago Food Depository distributes around 200,000 pounds of food across Cook County with its fleet of more than 40 vehicles, including the Producemobile, Mobile Pantry, Sprinter vans, and semi trucks. On any given day, a Food Depository truck might be making a delivery in far southern Sauk Village, while another might be driving through the Lakeview neighborhood, or even north suburban Schaumburg.

When you see one of our trucks in your neighborhood, we want you to tell us! If you see a Food Depository truck on the road or in your neighborhood in October, take a picture and share it with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #BigGreenTruck. Individuals who have shared a photo with us will be entered into a weekly drawing for a Food Depository t-shirt!

Rules: Social media posts must use the hashtag #BigGreenTruck, must tag the Food Depository, must be public, and must mention where the vehicle was seen. Users can post as many photos as they would like, but will only be counted once for the weekly t-shirt drawing. Entries do not roll over to the following week. Please refrain from taking photos of Food Depository vehicles while driving. Winners will be chosen on 10/11, 10/18, 10/25, and 11/1.

Connect with the Food Depository on Twitter at @FoodDepository, on Facebook, and on Instagram at FoodDepository.

Friday, September 27, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Changing life plans

Shevel Pickett receives food from the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry.
Shevel Pickett and her husband own a home and a car. They live in the Morgan Park neighborhood on the far South Side of Chicago, amongst Victorian-style homes and shaded streets. Five years ago, Shevel would never have expected to be in need of help from a food pantry. Instead, she was hoping to be well on her way to retirement by 2013.

But, Shevel’s plans had to be put on hold when she was laid off from her job in human resources in 2008. She has been working temporary assignments sporadically ever since, but has not found another full-time position.

“I’ve heard people use the phrase, ‘Too young to retire, too old to get hired,’” she said. “It’s hard because it seems like people are looking for younger employees and not me.”

Shevel receives unemployment and her husband is on disability, but the couple still can barely afford food. Once a month, they go to the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry.

“The pantry has been a wonder,” she said. “It helps a great deal. I’m able to make meals that end up lasting a long time.”

For pantry director Lillian Hennings, seeing people like Shevel at the pantry is a common occurrence.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in our numbers over the last few years,” she said. “The need is significant in this community and the economy is bad. It’s tough to get a job right now, so people come to the pantry.” 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kate Maehr's SNAP Challenge: Days 6 & 7

For breakfast, Kate has been eating plain oatmeal with water.
This week, as part of Hunger Action Month, Greater Chicago Food Depository Executive Director and CEO Kate Maehr is taking the SNAP Challenge. She is eating on just $35 worth of food for seven days – the average weekly benefit for an individual using SNAP in Illinois.

I have one full day left in the SNAP Challenge, and while I’m glad there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s sobering to realize that for so many of our neighbors, there is no defined end to hunger. For many, the question of, “how will I get my next meal?” is a constant companion. I will wake up Sunday and the Challenge will be over. For the 1 in 6 food insecure individuals in our community, it will start all over again.

The final days of the Challenge are often the most difficult for me. I feel worn down – physically and mentally. I’m barely getting enough calories, and it’s fatiguing to be constantly figuring out how to stretch what little food I have left.

My meals will continue to be bland and minimal. My game plan is to eat oatmeal with water for breakfast (as I’ve done all week), peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and maybe a can of soup for dinner tonight and pasta with the tomato on Saturday.

Looking back on my Challenge week, I was especially struck by how convenience is no longer an option when living on a SNAP budget. It’s critical to schedule your time appropriately, or else you risk not eating. For example, I worked until 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. I was hoping to eat beans for dinner, but quickly realized I forgot to soak them in water before I left in the morning, so I had to wait for two hours while they soaked before I could eat. I couldn’t just pick something up to eat instead, because I couldn’t afford it. Essentially, you have to plan your life around your meals, constructing your day around when you eat, and what you eat. It is stressful.

As I wrap up the Challenge, I feel this week has been especially impactful considering the U.S. House’s vote to cut $40 billion from the SNAP program on Thursday. If made law, this proposal would cut an estimated 4-6 million individuals from the program. They’d be losing their first line of defense against hunger. This is a program that we must fight to protect. SNAP is a way for hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in our community and across the country to get back on their feet and take control of their lives. It is a trampoline to a brighter future.

I encourage you to take the SNAP Challenge, and as Hunger Action Month continues, get involved in the fight against hunger in our community.

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Supporting multiple generations

Lillian White receives groceries from St. Cyprian's Food Pantry.
Lillian White paused before pushing her cart full of groceries out the door of St. Cyprian’s Food Pantry on the northwest side of Chicago. It was raining heavily, and she hoped it would slow down enough for her to load her car.

She carried a whole chicken, ground beef, fresh fruit, canned goods, cereal, and other assorted items from the food pantry.

“This helps me feed everyone,” she said. “Sometimes, you just don’t have any money for food. That’s basically where we are.”

Lillian, 68, lives with her son, daughter-in-law, and their two children. While the parents do work, bills have overburdened the family, and they are now on the verge of losing their home.  There is little money left over to buy food.

“I try to make the best of everything I get at the pantry,” she said. “We stretch it over the course of a month and it really helps.”

St. Cyprian’s serves more than 600 families per month – many with at least one person who has a job.

“The economy is so bad right now, you just can’t do anything,” Lillian said. “We have to eat. We wouldn’t be able to afford food if it weren’t for the pantry.”

As the rain calms, Lillian pushes her cart out to her car, sloshing through the parking lot.

“So many people think that if you’re coming to a food pantry, you’re poor. You’re homeless. But that’s not the case. Nowadays it’s because you just can’t make ends meet, and that’s us.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kate Maehr's SNAP Challenge: Days 1 & 2

Kate's groceries for the week.
This week, as part of Hunger Action Month, Greater Chicago Food Depository Executive Director and CEO Kate Maehr is taking the SNAP Challenge. She is eating on just $35 worth of food for seven days – the average weekly benefit for an individual using SNAP in Illinois. Kate will share her thoughts and experiences as she continues through the Challenge.

On Saturday, I went grocery shopping for my SNAP Challenge week, armed with my menu plan and a shopping list. I’ve learned from past SNAP Challenges that you need to buy your necessities first.  If you have money to spare, you can swing back to the fresh produce, deli and other perishables that many of us take for granted. 

I spent almost double the amount of time I usually do in the store.  Between the back tracking and checking the shelves closely for the best price and then tallying the price, it takes extra time. I was at a store that uses a shopper “preferred” card.  I was able to use that card to take advantage of sales, but you quickly realize that sales or “best buys” can be out of reach because of their size.  For instance, I saw a bulk pack of chicken thighs on sale for $9. The package was double the size of the one I ultimately bought for $6.  I didn’t have the $3 to spare.

At the checkout counter, the strawberry jelly I had purchased as my last “splurge” item didn’t ring up for the sale price I was certain it was supposed to be.  And because of that, my total was $35.40.  I asked the checkout clerk about the sale price and she explained the sign on the shelf might have been wrong.  So, I had to have her take the jelly off. Total bill = $32.24.  I’m hoping today I can stop by a store and find a small jar of jelly for less than $2.76.

I took my food home and I was already wondering how it was going to last me the entire week. I felt worn out just from the process of grocery shopping on such a tight budget, and I hadn’t even started the Challenge yet!

On Sunday, the Challenge began. I had toast with peanut butter and a glass of water for breakfast. By the time I had a can of soup and hardboiled egg for lunch, I was already feeling hungry and fatigued. It could be the lack of caffeine – I couldn’t afford coffee. For dinner, I had two chicken thighs, frozen broccoli and white rice for dinner.

I know this week isn’t going to be easy, but this is something that the 860,670 food insecure individuals in our community struggle with on a daily basis. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with you as the Challenge continues.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Greater Chicago Food Depository CEO Kate Maehr to take SNAP Challenge

As part of Hunger Action Month, Illinois lawmakers, members of the media, and anti-hunger advocates will raise awareness for the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by taking the SNAP Challenge during the week of Sept. 16-22. The Challenge gives participants a sense of the difficulties faced by the 1 in 6 food insecure individuals in our community who don’t know where their next meal will come from. It requires participants to eat with $35 worth of food for a week, which is the average weekly benefit for an individual using SNAP in Illinois.

Kate Maehr, Food Depository Executive Director and CEO, will take the Challenge.

“Living on only $35 of food for a week is a daunting task, but it’s something that hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children constantly struggle with in our community.”

For updates on Kate’s progress all week, follow @FoodDepository on Twitter, like the FoodDepository on Facebook and check back in with the blog.

The Challenge comes at a critical time in the fight against hunger. A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report shows 49 million Americans were food insecure in 2012, which is a 4 percent increase in U.S. food insecurity over the past decade. In Cook County, 860,670 men, women and children are food insecure.

Despite the increased need, lawmakers are considering a cut of up to $40 billion from the SNAP program. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if passed, this action would remove 4-6 million individuals from SNAP nationwide, effectively eliminating their first line of defense against hunger. Food banks such as the Greater Chicago Food Depository would not be able to fill the gap in food assistance that such a move would create.

Individuals taking the Challenge in addition to Kate include Bob Aiken, Feeding America CEO, Illinois Reps. Sara Feigenholtz and Norine Hammond, Illinois Sen. Jackie Collins, Natalie Moore and Monica Eng of WBEZ, and Kim Kirchherr, nutritionist for ABC 7.

For SNAP Challenge guidelines, visit chicagosfoodbank.org/SNAPChallenge.

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'We were used to one meal a day'

Jill and Chester have been coming to the Niles Township Pantry for nearly two years.
Jill Brenner and her son Chester take a cab to the Niles Township Food Pantry in Skokie twice a month. It’s a stretch for them to pay the cab fare, but if they didn’t go, they wouldn’t eat.

“Before we started coming here, we were used to one meal a day, because that’s all we could afford,” Chester said.

Jill has been on disability for the last five years. Previously, she was an accountant. Her son is also disabled, after having multiple heart surgeries. Jill is not eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits because of what she receives from disability. But, she still has difficulty affording food because most of her income is spent on rent.

“Food is not cheap these days,” Jill said. “It has been rough the last couple of years for us, but the pantry has been a godsend.”

Jill and Chester regularly receive meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods, and bread from the pantry, which serves approximately 3,000 families per month.

“It’s been a lifesaver for us, literally,” Jill said.

For Chester, 21, the pantry is not only a source of nutritious food; it is a way to build strength and confidence.

“It definitely saved the holidays for us last year, because we wouldn’t have had any food otherwise. But besides just the holidays, on a monthly basis, it lets me feel pride and gives me a sense of hope.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

Get involved during Hunger Action Month

September is Hunger Action Month, which is dedicated to raising awareness and mobilizing action for the fight against hunger. This yearly effort by anti-hunger advocates arrives as the need for food assistance continues to reach record levels in Cook County, and across the United States. 

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report stating approximately 49 million individuals nationwide were food insecure at some point in 2012. The report also shows a 4 percent increase in U.S. food insecurity in the last decade. And, data released in June by Feeding America showed there are 860,670 food insecure men, women, and children in Cook County. This means 1 in 6 of our neighbors don’t know where their next meal will come from.

If we work together, we can make a difference in the fight against hunger. Join the Greater Chicago Food Depository during Hunger Action Month as we put into action our belief that no one should go hungry in our community. Here are some ways to get involved:

1. Visit chicagosfoodbank.org/advocate to find contact information for your elected officials and to sign up to receive Food Depository advocacy alerts.
2. Organize a group of volunteers to make phone calls to Members of Congress to communicate the importance of protecting federal nutrition programs.
3. Spread the word. Stay active on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to maintain awareness in your community. Connect with other supporters by using the hashtag #HungerActionMonth on Twitter.
4. Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper about hunger in your community.
5.  Organize a local food drive and encourage other community organizations to participate.
6. Like the Food Depository on Facebook and follow @FoodDepository on Twitter. 
7. Attend a neighborhood, city, or county meeting and tell attendees about Hunger Action Month.
8. Take the SNAP Challenge, and learn how difficult it is to survive on a limited food budget of $35 for the week of Sept. 16-22. Encourage others in your community to try as well.

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Working full-time, still struggling to eat

Laura Grabfelder and her daughter Mackenzie receive food from Operation Blessing Food Pantry once per month.
Four-year-old Mackenzie skipped up to the front door of the Operation Blessing Food Pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in south suburban Crestwood, on a sunny Thursday morning. In one hand, she held her mother’s pointer finger, and with the other she carried a plastic bag full of fluffy dolls.

“Here you go!” she grinned, emphatically handing the bag to a pantry volunteer, eager to make her donation. Today, Mackenzie is at the pantry to drop off the dolls. Yesterday, she was at the pantry with her mother, Laura Grabfelder, to get food.

Laura has been coming to the pantry once a month for more than a year. She has a full-time job at an insurance company, but still has trouble supporting herself and Mackenzie.

“I barely make enough to pay rent or pay for much else let alone food,” Laura said. “Getting food from the pantry is a big help.”

Laura recently got a 50 cent per hour raise at work, which equates to approximately $80 more per month for the family. Because of the raise, Laura’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits dropped from $200 per month to only $27 per month.

“It’s tough to get by, even with the job,” she said. “In fact, after this, we’ll be stopping at a few thrift stores to get clothes for Mackenzie, because she’s going into preschool this year.”

The pantry serves more than 1,000 people per month.

“There’s always a need in this community,” said pantry assistant John Whithall. “Some people that come here have degrees, but can’t find jobs. There’s just nothing available.”

With support from the Food Depository, Operation Blessing served 50,000 people last year. While addressing a massive need in the community, they never lose sight of small donations like Mackenzie’s.

After dropping off the dolls, John handed Mackenzie some peanut butter crackers, which she happily grabbed. She took a bite and her blue eyes lit up.

“This is the first time she’s had peanut butter,” Laura said. “That’s why this pantry means so much to us.”

Friday, August 30, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Rescuing food, families

The clients who come to the St. Columbanus Church Food Pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency, call her “Dee Dee,” but her full name is Marguarite Smith. She is a volunteer and client who greets everyone at the pantry with a jovial smile and a hug. She’s always focused on making everyone in line feel comfortable and welcomed, because she knows times are tough.

“Some of the people that come here can’t even afford lettuce to make a salad,” she said. “So the vegetables and other food we get here are great.”

Marguarite has been volunteering at the pantry for eight years, ever since she had to go on disability soon after her husband also became disabled. Unable to work, the couple struggles to eat on less than $300 per month in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and food from the pantry.

“Everyone that comes here is just so happy to get meat and chicken,” she said. “I get so many calls from people saying they can cook so much more because of what we receive here.”

St. Columbanus is able to serve approximately 500 clients per week because of Food Depository support, including thousands of pounds of food distributed to the agency every month, grants, and technical assistance.

 Part of the food the pantry receives is from the Food Depository’s Food Rescue program.

“With the Food Rescue program, we can give clients another source of protein,” said pantry coordinator LaVerne Morris. “It truly makes a difference.”

Food Rescue provides Food Depository member agencies with quality meat, dairy products, and produce recovered from grocery stores that would otherwise have been discarded. St. Columbanus joined the program in 2009.

“The pantry used to give us just canned goods, but now everyone’s happy to get the meat,” Marguarite said.

In fiscal year 2012-2013, the Food Depository’s Food Rescue program distributed 10.2 million pounds of food – an increase of more than one million pounds from the previous year.

Friday, August 23, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'Working with desperate people'

Maureen Ryan chooses a bag of vegetables at the Union Ave. UMC Church food pantry.
Maureen Ryan used to have a steady, secure job in accounting and credit collecting.

“I was the best credit collector in the City of Chicago,” she laughed.

That was about 10 years ago. After losing the job, Maureen hasn’t been able to find consistent work. She now works odd jobs and cleans houses to make ends meet. Between her part-time income and $126 per month in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, she doesn’t make enough to support her disabled husband and two teenage daughters.

“They don’t give enough for food stamps. It’s just not enough,” she said.

To fill in the gaps, Maureen and her husband get fruit, vegetables, meat, bread, and canned goods at the Union Avenue UMC Church food pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository agency in the South Side neighborhood of Canaryville.

“Since my husband has been disabled, the doctors want him to eat better, so I get my vegetables here, because they’re just too expensive otherwise.”

Maureen and her husband have been coming to the pantry for a year.

“It’s tough to scrounge up money to buy food these days,” Maureen said. “That’s why this is such a blessing for us.”

Every month, the pantry serves more than 400 individuals, and the Ryans’ story is all too familiar to pantry coordinator Ray Carey.

“We’re working with desperate people now,” he said. “People have lost their jobs and are struggling through no fault of their own. That story needs to be told.”

Join the Greater Chicago Food Depository in the fight against hunger in Cook County. Donate or volunteer and make a difference for the 1 in 6 of our neighbors who don’t know where their next meal will come from.

Friday, August 16, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'We just didn't have any food'

Steve Polzak relies on the Greater Chicago Food Depository Mobile Pantry in Sauk Village for fruit, vegetables and shelf-stable goods.
Steve Polzak, 58, grasped the handle of a rolling cooler with one hand, and his cane in the other. It was a radiant, clear afternoon in South Suburban Sauk Village, and Steve was visiting a Greater Chicago Food Depository Mobile Pantry at Emmanuel Church.

Steve was receiving fresh carrots, potatoes, onions, collard greens and bread at the distribution. He and his wife go to the Mobile Pantry every few months, since times got tough.

“I didn’t have any breakfast today because we just didn’t have any food,” Steve said. “This helps tremendously.”

Steve got into a car accident about 10 years ago and severely injured his back. He had to go on permanent disability and was no longer able to work in his job at a warehouse. Since the accident, paying for related medical issues has drained his family’s savings account. 

Steve’s wife was also laid off from her job in information technology three years ago, and has since gone on disability. Swamped by mortgage payments and medical bills, the couple has trouble affording food.

“The only thing I’ve eaten recently was a scrambled egg sandwich,” Steve said. “That’s holding up right now pretty well but if it weren’t for this I’m not sure what we’d be doing.”

Steve is relying heavily on the Mobile Pantry this month because he is in the process of renewing his SNAP benefits and is out of funds on his family’s Link card.

“There’s literally nothing in our pantry right now,” Steve said. “Now that we have this food, we’ll be able to pull something together for dinner tonight and for the rest of the week.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Food Depository AmeriCorps member sees partnership's impact

Lakeshia Hawkins (front row, far right) with other Food Depository AmeriCorps members.
Since 2009, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has been hosting AmeriCorps members through the AmeriCorps State/National Program. The individuals are placed at the Food Depository or in member agencies and are utilized to assist with day-to-day pantry operations, community volunteer recruitment and retention, fundraising and nutrition and health education. The following post is an update from AmeriCorps member Lakeshia Hawkins, who is currently serving at Marillac House Food Pantry on the West Side:

I am completing my first AmeriCorps service year as a volunteer coordinator at Marillac House Food Pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository agency that serves the Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Austin communities. Marillac provides a critical service in the community, which has a poverty rate in some areas of more than 40 percent.

During my service year, I’ve seen the need continue to increase in the area, and I’ve also seen the immense impact the Food Depository and Marillac House are making every day. When I started one year ago, the pantry was serving about 70 people per distribution. Now, we see about 150 clients three times a week. In order to address this need, with the Food Depository’s help, we distributed nearly 595,000 pounds of food last year.

On a daily basis I manage approximately 15 volunteers and provide job placement assistance, housing, and food resource information to residents of the community. The volunteers at Marillac are a vital part of ending hunger on the West Side, and in my AmeriCorps year I developed a volunteer pamphlet that gives a brief history of Marillac and describes what potential volunteers would be doing at the pantry.

My AmeriCorps service at Marillac has been a transformative experience. Before joining AmeriCorps, I was working at the food pantry in order to meet the requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, so that I could support my two children. Since joining the Food Depository’s AmeriCorps program, I have gained marketable job skills and have improved my time management and communication skills. I’ve also earned an education award and am now a student at Harold Washington College. I intend to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in business administration within the next two years.

Every day, I see our clients’ smiling faces after they receive food and I know the Food Depository and Marillac have made a tangible difference in their lives. For at least one day, they don’t have to worry about finding their next meal. Because of these programs, the community becomes stronger every day and the quality of life improves. Similarly, the AmeriCorps experience has left an unmistakable mark on my life. I have found purpose and focus. After earning my degree, I plan to open my own food pantry. Thanks to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and AmeriCorps, I have been given the tools to succeed and the means to provide myself and my children with a brighter future.

For more information about the Food Depository's programs and how you can get involved, visit chicagosfoodbank.org.