Thursday, July 25, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Reaching out in tough times

Susan Goodle, left, applies for SNAP with the help of AmeriCorps Member Kathy Wroblewska.
“I’m new to all of this,” 30-year-old Susan Goodle said as she glanced around a room full of giggling children, playing with brightly colored toys.

Susan was at a Greater Chicago Food Depository SNAP Outreach event at the CEDA WIC office in Oak Lawn. She was applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for the first time.

“I’m struggling right now,” she said. “Over the past few months, I’ve been having a really hard time.”

Susan works about 16 hours per week as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a local hospital, but since her recent divorce, her income is barely enough to pay the rent and utility bills. She is also paying for college, studying full-time to get her nursing degree.

Susan knows she will need help buying food. Not only because of her debt, but also because she is pregnant.

“I need to make sure that my child is going to have enough to eat,” she said.

She has come to the right place. The Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach program helps clients connect with federal benefits by answering questions about SNAP and helping individuals fill out the 11-page application.

“SNAP Outreach is an integral part of the Food Depository’s mission,” said Graciela Rodriguez, SNAP Outreach Supervisor. “In Illinois, 20 percent of people eligible for SNAP aren’t enrolled. We want to make sure eligible individuals have the opportunity to benefit from the program.”

In fiscal year 2012-2013, the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach team helped provide assistance to 3,282 households. This year’s goal is more than 4,000.

Back in Oak Lawn, Food Depository AmeriCorps Member Kathy Wroblewska determined that Susan was about $50 over the monthly gross income limit for a household of one, but they both decided it was a good idea to submit the application.

“When Susan’s baby is born, she will have a household of two and based on her income, she would be eligible at that time for SNAP benefits,” Kathy said.

Clients are normally notified about their SNAP application two months after submission. In the meantime, Susan received a list of Food Depository agencies in her area, to help make ends meet while she waits.

“I live check to check right now, but getting help applying for SNAP gives me a little more hope for my future, and for my baby’s future,” Susan said.

Friday, July 19, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Giving back

Michael Mooney has been volunteering at St. Ignatius Church's Food Pantry since 2001.
With more than 860,000 people in Cook County struggling to find food, there are countless stories to tell. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is striving to tell 52 stories of the people we serve in 52 weeks.

From fixing helicopters in the Army to volunteering in his community, Michael Mooney has lived a life of service.

Michael, 53, served in the Army as a helicopter mechanic during Desert Storm. He returned to Chicago in 2001 unable to work because of an injury and needed help making ends meet.

“I just wasn’t able to make it to the end of the month,” he said. “I just didn’t have the money to buy enough food.”

Michael found assistance at the St. Ignatius Church’s food pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Michael started coming regularly, receiving fresh fruit, vegetables and groceries from the pantry.

He soon realized how valuable the agency was to the community and decided to volunteer. Twelve years later, Michael rarely uses the pantry, but continues to volunteer on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“For many, this pantry is the difference between being hungry and feeding your family. I’m glad to be part of making a difference,” Michael said.

The pantry serves nearly 600 families per month and is open Wednesdays 2-4 p.m. and Fridays 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Food Depository grant helps agency connect kids with meals

The van transports 30 children per day across gang lines to and from New Mount Calvary's summer program.
New Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in West Englewood – a Greater Chicago Food Depository agency – is making a difference in children’s lives this summer, one van ride at a time.

The church received a $5,000 grant from the Food Depository in partnership with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Illinois program last summer. The funds went to the upkeep of a van that New Mount Calvary uses to safely transport about 30 children across gang lines to and from the church’s summer program, which provides a nutritious breakfast and lunch, plus constructive activities.

 “Our goal is to keep kids off the streets and to feed them as well. There’s definitely a great need,” said Yolanda Morris, children’s program coordinator.

The van serves children in West Englewood, Englewood and Chicago Lawn, and overall the program has seen about 150 children this summer.

“We provide the vision for the child to see something different, but without the Greater Chicago Food Depository, we would not be able to do that,” Yolanda said. “We protect the children and help them get home safely, and we’re only able to do that because of extraordinary sponsors.”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Filling in the gaps

Dave Blakeman, right, loads bags full of fresh fruits and vegetables into his cart at a Producemobile distribution in Richton Park. (Photo By Charlie Westerman/Greater Chicago Food Depository)
With more than 860,000 people in Cook County struggling to find food, there are countless stories to tell. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is striving to tell 52 stories of the people we serve in 52 weeks.

Dave Blakeman, 53, always loved tinkering, inventing and fixing things. He was an engineer for 30 years, until he was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago.

“I never expected to go from having a full-time job to living day-to-day, wondering how I was going to feed my family,” he said.

Dave is currently undergoing treatment and can no longer work. He is quickly spending his savings paying medical bills and taking care of his family in Frankfort Square, a southern suburb. It’s a struggle for Dave to pay for food, especially fresh fruit and vegetables.

He gets apples, oranges, bananas, onions, and corn from the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Producemobile distribution in Richton Park.

“This definitely fills in the gaps,” Dave said. “I have a wife and two boys at home and with this food I know they’ll get the nutrition they need.”

As for Dave’s penchant for engineering? He hasn’t given it up despite being unable to work.

“I recently found some parts for a remote controlled plane, and fixed one up,” he said, smiling. “I fly it around the backyard. It keeps me occupied.”

The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Producemobile delivers food to people in need all year long. In Fiscal Year 2012-13, one-third of the Food Depository’s distribution was fresh fruits and vegetables.

Donate to the Food Depository and make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in our community.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Food or bills?

Pearline Hudson, 62, gets supplemental food from the St. James Food Pantry.
With more than 860,000 people in Cook County struggling to find food each day, there are countless stories to tell. Starting this week, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is striving to tell 52 stories of the people we serve in 52 weeks.

“Do I eat or do I pay my medical bills?”

That’s a question 62-year-old Pearline Hudson needed to face after being diagnosed with breast cancer recently. Pearline is quickly using up her savings paying medical bills and can’t afford to buy all the food she needs.

“I have so many medical bills so right now I’m kind of struggling,” she said.

But, with the help of the St. James Food Pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository agency in the Douglas neighborhood, Pearline can focus on getting better and not worry about where she’s going to get her next meal. Pearline has been getting fresh fruit, vegetables and meat from the pantry for the last five months.

“Despite my situation, I make sure to stay positive,” she said. “Places like (St. James) help me have a better quality of life.”

Pearline is not alone. St. James pantry coordinator Cathy Moore said the agency has seen an increase over the last few months in the number of older adults it serves.

“Our overall clients have leveled out, but we continue to see more older adults coming in needing food assistance,” she said.

The pantry serves more than 1,500 families per month.

“There are other people here who have problems like mine, but you just have to look at it in a positive light and go from there,” Pearline said.

See more stories of those affected by hunger on Facebook. Please consider donating to the Greater Chicago Food Depository as we strive to end hunger in Cook County.