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

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.