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.”