Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 1 in 5: Winter break

9-year-old Leo eats a nutritious meal at the Union League Boys & Girls Club Club One Kids Cafe.

During the summer months many children in Cook County face hunger as they are away from free and reduced price school meals. When classes resume in September, thousands of students receive the meals they need to stay healthy.
Families face the same challenge during winter break.

That’s why many Greater Chicago Food Depository Kids Cafes are open throughout the holiday season, including the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs Club One in the Pilsen neighborhood.

“Unfortunately for a lot of the kids that come to the Club during winter break, the meal they get here might be the only meal they’re getting during the day,” said Ben Medina, assistant club director.

Throughout the year, but especially during the holidays, the need among families is significant in Pilsen, Ben says.

“A lot of our kids’ parents are barely making ends meet,” he said. “They’re working graveyard shifts, or two or three jobs a day making minimum wage.”

Children receive a hot meal prepared by the Food Depository at the Kids Cafe. In addition, they can play sports or, when school is in session, do their homework. The Kids Cafe serves approximately 150 children each day. One of them is 9-year-old Leo, a fourth-grader who’s been coming to the Club for the past two years.

Leo has a brother and sister. His mom works during the day and his dad works at night to support the family.

“I like the fruit and vegetables I get here,” he said.

With the food Leo eats at the Kids Cafe, he’s able to stay healthy and concentrate on his favorite subject in school.

“I really like math,” he said. “My favorite homework is math and I like playing on the computers too.”

Also eating a meal at the Kids Cafe was 15-year-old Cesar, a quiet freshman who plays football and is on the wrestling team. For him, the healthy meals he eats at the Club are important to staying in shape.

“I try to eat the oranges and apples when I’m here,” he said. “They’re good to eat for sports.”

Whether it’s winter break, during the summer, or when school is in session, children face hunger in Pilsen and across Cook County. But the response is strong.

“I know this program really makes a difference,” Ben said. “It’s awesome to see the kids getting a well-rounded meal.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

The 1 in 5: Going to school, receiving food

As the sun came up on a chilly Thursday morning, Tiffany Andrews was already heading out the door with her two children. They were going to Chavez Elementary School in the Back of the Yards neighborhood to drop her 10-year-old daughter off for school. They were also at the school to get food at the Healthy Kids Market.

“This helps us out a lot,” Tiffany said. “We only have one income right now, so it’s a big deal to get extra food. Plus, it’s easy for me because I’m here already dropping my daughter off.”

The Healthy Kids Market is for families with children at the school. On that morning, it was distributing onions, green bell peppers, beets, oranges and shelf-stable food like oatmeal and canned vegetables.

“Fruit is really pricey these days,” Tiffany said. “Getting it here helps us save money for other living expenses.”

Tiffany’s husband works full-time in a nearby warehouse. She had a steady job as a receptionist since 2006, but recently became unemployed. She is actively looking for a job, but with only one income, providing food for her children can be difficult.

“We try to focus as best we can on nutritious food,” she said. “They love bananas and pears and all that, but it’s not easy to always provide those.”

Tiffany’s family is one of many in the neighborhood who turn to the program for food occasionally.
Mayra Sedano, a volunteer with a son and daughter at the school, sees the benefit of the Market.

“There are a lot of kids here who rely on the fruit and vegetables they get here. When families run out, they can’t really afford to buy more,” she said.

Mayra receives food as well.

“My daughter is diabetic and she needs to eat healthy, so I can stretch what we get here into meals for the week,” she said.

The Market at Chavez, one of 10 Healthy Kids Markets in Chicago Public Schools, serves approximately 700 households per month.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The 1 in 5: Providing fresh fruit after school

Bianca, left, and MaKayla, right, eat Kids Cafe meals at the Rauner Family Y in Little Village.
Mercedes Cruz looked on as her two daughters, 6-year-old MaKayla and 7-year-old Bianca, each happily peeled an orange at a Kids Cafe in the Little Village neighborhood. For the two children, it was just another day at the after school program. But Mercedes knew the importance of the oranges.

“I can’t afford to send them to school with fresh fruit, so it’s great that they’re getting it here,” she said.

MaKayla and Bianca have been enrolled in the program at the Rauner Family Y since September. The food they receive makes a significant impact.

“It really helps with our budget,” Mercedes said.

Mercedes works as a cashier at a local store. For the most part, she’s working 35-40 hours per week. But sometimes, when the store isn’t as busy, her hours decrease. A fluctuating paycheck makes it difficult to budget and afford food on a consistent basis.

“The kids getting food here is probably saving me $200 per week,” she said. “It would be tough to afford that so this helps a lot.”

Mercedes’ boyfriend works the overnight shift at the grocery store. Despite both individuals having jobs, it can still be a struggle to make ends meet.

“At the end of the week, there’s always a new bill that has to be paid,” Mercedes said. “It gets to be a lot.”

For Bianca and MaKayla, the Kids Cafe means not being hungry after school, and having a place to get their homework done. Getting a variety of fresh fruit is a highlight, too.

“I really like the bananas and grapes,” MaKayla said, in between orange slices.

The children are part of a group of about 25 who receive meals every day at the program.

“The need is very high in this community,” said Maria Leon, the Y’s youth and family program director. “There are a lot of people here who need the help.”

To address the need, Maria hopes to expand enrollment in the future. But for now, the program remains a vital part of a healthy childhood for Bianca, MaKayla, and dozens of other children in our community.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The 1 in 5: Making healthy choices

Every day after school, 7-year-old Ja’Mirrah Terry and her 8-year-old sister Ja’Meyah come to the McCormick Tribune Y Kids CafĂ© inside the Oakley Square apartments. In the program, they work on their homework, play games and receive a healthy meal prepared by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The sisters both look forward to the healthy food they receive at the Kids Cafe, which generally includes fruit, a vegetable a sandwich and milk. The nutritious meals are prepared from scratch by staff and students of the Food Depository’s food service job-training program, Chicago’s Community Kitchens.

“We get hummus and healthy stuff that we like here,” said Ja’Mirrah.

“My favorite are the apples,” her sister chimed in.

Because they’re eating healthy in school and at the Kids Cafe, the children’s mother, Aiesha, notices that they’re both more willing to make healthy choices at the grocery store.

“Instead of asking me to buy a bunch of sweet stuff, I’m trying to buy more healthy stuff because that’s what they want,” she said.

For Aiesha, the Kids Cafe is essential. She works in home care and is looking for more hours, but putting food on the table consistently can be a struggle.

“It helps me bridge the gap because I receive SNAP and am working two days a week, but sometimes that’s not enough.”

With the Kids Cafe, she knows her daughters will have a good meal after school.

“It makes sure they have a better, healthier way of life,” she said.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Food Depository teams with Hines VA, AmeriCorps to open veterans pantry

The food pantry at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital serves approximately 130 veterans per week.

In November, the Food Depository opened a new pantry at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. The pantry distributes fresh produce, shelf-stable food and other nutritious groceries to veterans in the same place they’re already going for medical care.

“There's so much need for this," said Babette Peyton, a retired U.S. Air Force Veteran who recently received food from the pantry. "It’s helps me out a lot."

The pantry operates on Thursdays and has been serving approximately 130 veterans per week since its opening. It is one of the only pantries within a VA facility in the country, joining a similar program that the Food Depository launched at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago in November 2013.

In Cook County, 18 percent of households served by the Food Depository include at least one active or retired member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Additionally, more than 18,000 veterans in our community live below the poverty line.

To learn more about the Food Depository’s veterans response visit

Friday, November 7, 2014

The 1 in 5: Realizing potential

Mihriba Amin, center, distributes fresh produce at the Healthy Kids Market.

On a recent Friday morning, the halls of Lloyd Elementary School in the Hermosa neighborhood should have been quiet and empty.  It was the start of a long weekend and a day off for the students.

Yet, the school was buzzing with activity. A line of laughing, smiling parents surrounded by children enjoying the cool November morning stretched down the sidewalk in front of the school. The families were there for a Healthy Kids Market distribution.

“See that line? It’s a long weekend. People don’t need to be here,” said Mihriba Amin, the program coordinator. “But they’re here because they need the food.”

The Market serves approximately 300 families at a weekly distribution. It is available to families with children in the school.

“The economy has hit this neighborhood hard,” Mihriba said. “Not many of the families here can get fresh produce.”

At the Market, parents were receiving fresh corn, apples, oranges, and cucumbers in addition to shelf stable food like bags of rice and canned items. Mihriba has been managing the program since it started five years ago. She chose Fridays for the distribution to target a specific need in the community.

“Kids have breakfast and lunch at school during the week,” she said. “But what happens on the weekend? Knowing that children will have food on Saturday and Sunday means so much to me.”

Mihriba understands how much the market means to the families, because she once struggled to afford food.

“I know where they’re coming from,” she said. “I know how much many of these families are battling.”

Mihriba and her husband came to the United States from Bosnia when she was 30 years old. She had a degree in agricultural engineering and her husband had a degree in civil engineering. But their degrees did not transfer to the U.S.
Not knowing English and unable to find a job, Mihriba applied for and began receiving SNAP benefits. She started working at a daycare and her husband got a job overnight cleaning at a hotel. Eventually they saved enough to afford a house and were able to get the appropriate credits to transfer their degrees.

Throughout her difficult transition, Mihriba saw the potential in herself and refused to give up. She knows the Healthy Kids Market helps families realize that potential within themselves.

“I did it. I know these families can too,” she said.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The 1 in 5: 'How can you do homework when your stomach is growling?'

Jaylen receives a meal and gets homework done at a Kids Cafe site in North Lawndale.
In our community, hundreds of thousands of children face hunger every day. But, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations provide programs designed to fight childhood hunger.

On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization - the federal law that funds many of those programs - is set to expire.

Twice a month for the next year, we will be telling stories about the importance of those programs. These are the real stories of the 1 in 5 children in Cook County who face food insecurity and the programs that make an impact on their lives.

Seven-year-old Jaylen was happily scribbling away on a piece of lined paper, writing about a trip to Florida he wants to take one day. Despite the chatter of children around him, the second grader was fully focused on his homework assignment.

“My mom and dad want me to do as much homework as I can here,” he said, taking a moment to look up from his paper. “It’s easier to do homework here because when I get hungry I get distracted.”

Every day, Jaylen eats a meal at the Family Focus Lawndale after school program, which receives Kids Cafe meals from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. He’s one of approximately 60 children enrolled in the program, which fills a critical need in the community.

“A lot of these kids probably wouldn’t eat at night if they didn’t get a meal here,” said Roosevelt Smith, the program coordinator.

In North Lawndale, the child poverty rate is 58 percent. And, according to Roosevelt, healthy food options are limited.

“Children don’t get a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables around here,” he said.

That’s why the federally funded Kids Cafe meals are so important. Generally they include a sandwich, fruit and a vegetable.

For Tamika Beverley, the meals her twin 7-year-olds receive at Family Focus are a “godsend.”
“How can they focus when they’re hungry?” she said.

Tamika works full-time at the post office and picks her children up around 5 p.m. In addition to receiving a meal at the program, they get schoolwork done. But for Tamika, the biggest benefit of the program goes back to nutrition.

“How can you do homework when your stomach is growling?” she said. “This knocks the edge off.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hunger Action Month activities raise awareness, funds for hunger relief

Whether it was wearing orange, taking the SNAP Challenge, or volunteering, thousands of individuals joined the fight against hunger during Hunger Action Month in September.

Throughout the month, many changed their social media profile pictures to an orange version of the Greater Chicago Food Depository logo, while others donned orange apparel to raise awareness.
The ABC 7 Chicago morning news team joined many others wearing orange to show support for Hunger Action Month.
Food Depository supporters, partners and staff took the SNAP Challenge, which asks participants to eat on $35 of food for a week – the average SNAP benefit for an individual in Illinois. The Challenge highlights the difficult decisions those who struggle with hunger must make every day.

More than 50 city, county, state and federal elected officials and staff volunteered at the Food Depository, packing 6,100 pounds of apples. Overall in September, 2,735 individuals gave of their time at the Food Depository.

Also during the month, generous supporters donated more than $45,000 to the Food Depository’s Hunger Action Month email campaign, which provided more fresh produce to hungry men, women and children in our community.

Regardless of how you took action during Hunger Action Month, thank you for your support. Together, we lifted our voices to proclaim, “no one should go hungry.”

Even though Hunger Action Month is over, there are still numerous ways to get involved. Visit to learn how you can take action in the fight against hunger.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The 1 in 5: Eating healthy, learning better

Dahlia Ocasio and her children receive food from the Healthy Kids Market at Calmeca Academy.
In our community, hundreds of thousands of children face hunger every day. But, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations provide programs designed to fight childhood hunger.

On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization - the federal law that funds many of those programs - is set to expire.

Twice a month for the next year, we will be telling stories about the importance of those programs. These are the real stories of the 1 in 5 children in Cook County who face food insecurity and the programs that make an impact on their lives.

Parents cheerfully move through the line at the Calmeca Academy Healthy Kids Market, stopping to chat with the volunteers while their canvas bags fill with bananas, pears, apples, cabbage, pasta and more.

Principal Frances Garcia stands nearby, greeting everyone who comes through the line. She helped start the program at Calmeca, a Chicago Public School in the Brighton Park neighborhood, when the school opened in 2010. Since then, she’s become keenly aware of the need in the community.

“We’re filling a void for a lot of families,” she said. “The majority of families that come to the market are extremely needy.”

Calmeca’s Healthy Kids Market serves approximately 190 families at a weekly distribution. It is available to families with children in the school.

“The market has made a huge contribution to the quality of life for a lot of families in this community who are struggling to make ends meet,” Principal Garcia said.

The Healthy Kids Market is run entirely by parent volunteers and distributes food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It helps ensure children have enough food to eat when they’re not at school.

“Some parents in our community can’t afford produce at all,” said Principal Garcia. “But they’re able to get it here.”

That’s the case for Dahlia Ocasio, who has a 12-year-old, 9-year-old and 5-year-old at the school. She’s currently unemployed but her husband is working full-time. Still, their budget is stretched every month.

“This is really great for my children,” she said. “It helps a lot because we want them to eat healthy so they can learn better.”

Dahlia comes to the market every week.

“There’s no way I would be able to afford fresh fruit if I wasn’t getting it here,” she said.

Not only does the program provide fresh fruit and vegetables to children and families in a community that does not have easy access to them - it is also an excellent way to get parents more involved in their child’s education.

“The market brings parents to the school that we wouldn’t normally see,” Principal Garcia said. “All of a sudden, they start to see the school as a place where they too can learn and grow.”

There are currently 11 Healthy Kids Markets at Chicago Public Schools across the city. The Food Depository intends to expand the program to additional schools in the next year. The Healthy Kids Market at Calmeca Academy is supported by Morgan Stanley’s Healthy Cities, a program that brings together medical care, healthy food and safe opportunities for exercise. 

View this story as a Story Map at

Friday, September 26, 2014

The 1 in 5: A community institution

Rozenia, Jaliyah and Javon at the Union League Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park.
In our community, hundreds of thousands of children face hunger every day. But, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations provide programs designed to fight childhood hunger.

On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization - the federal law that funds many of those programs - is set to expire.

Twice a month for the next year, we will be telling stories about the importance of those programs. These are the real stories of the 1 in 5 children in Cook County who face food insecurity.

After school, the Union League Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park is a buzzing hub of activity. Children of all ages play soccer or basketball in the gym, tap ping pong balls back and forth on table tennis courts, or study with textbook and pencil in hand.

For more than 20 years, children have been coming to the club after school. But they don’t just come for the activities or for a place to study.

“We’ve been here for a long time,” said Hector Perez, the club’s senior director. “We’ve also been a part of the Kids Cafe program since 2000.”

Kids Cafes - a part of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program - provide children with a nutritious meal after school at community centers, churches, and other organizations. In Humboldt Park, the child poverty rate is nearly 49 percent, which makes the Union League Club’s Kids Cafe a critical barrier to hunger among children in the area. Every day, the program provides more than 150 nutritious meals for children prepared by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Rozenia Barron, a long-time volunteer at the Union League, sees the meals’ impact every day – especially now that her two grandchildren are there after school.

“The meal helps their parents a great deal,” she said. “The children need healthy food, but that’s expensive. When their parents can’t afford it, they can still get it here.”

Five-year-old Jaliyah, Rozenia’s granddaughter, is happy to eat the healthy fruit and vegetables she gets at the Union League Club.

“My favorite food here is the vegetables. Even the peas!” she exclaimed. “And I like the pears, too.”

Her brother, Javon, is seven. He just started second grade and struggles with a learning disability.

“The meals he gets here help him stay focused,” Rozenia said.

After volunteering at the club for 20 years, Rozenia has seen plenty of children come and go. But there’s one thing many have in common.

“These kids are hungry,” she said. “But this place is like a community institution. Without it, I don’t know where a lot of these kids would go for a meal after school."

View this story as a Story Map at

Friday, August 29, 2014

Get involved in the fight against hunger during Hunger Action Month

In Cook County, 1 in 6 people receives food from a pantry, soup kitchen or shelter. That's more than 812,000 annually. Awareness is critical in the fight to end hunger.

During Hunger Action Month this September, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is encouraging those in Cook County to raise awareness and take action. There are a number of ways to get involved:

Go orange to show your support of hunger-relief.
Change your social media profile picture to the image above during the month of September to raise awareness for the issue of hunger in our community. Or, wear orange to show your support.

Step into the shoes of someone who's hungry. Take the SNAP Challenge.
The SNAP Challenge asks participants to live on just $35 of food for a week - the average weekly SNAP benefit for an individual in Illinois. The Challenge highlights the difficult decisions many in our community must make every day as they struggle to afford food. Read the SNAP Challenge guidelines.

Sign the Social Donation Plate
Visit and join Chicago sports teams and celebrities in the fight against hunger by signing their virtual donation plate or by starting your own. Then, pass it to friends on social media to spread the word and help fill the plates of hungry men, women and children in our community.

These are just a few ways to take action during Hunger Action Month. Visit to find more ways to get involved.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interactive Story Map: The summer Lunch Bus

Click above to view an interactive Story Map that follows the Lunch Bus across Cook County.

This summer, the Greater Chicago Food Depository's Lunch Bus traveled three different routes throughout Cook County, delivering nearly 1,000 nutritious meals to children in need every weekday.

The Southwest City route takes the Lunch Bus through Cicero, South Lawndale, Mckinley Park, West Englewood and more. At each stop, there are stories to tell. There is joy, as children laugh, eat and play together. There are also children in need and families who struggle to make ends meet.

This interactive Story Map captures one day of distributing summer meals along the Southwest City Lunch Bus route, with different stories, quotes and insight from each stop. Click the picture above to view the Story Map.

For more information about the Lunch Bus or the Food Depository's response to summer hunger, or to find summer meal sites, visit

Friday, June 27, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Overcoming life's challenges

From left to right, Valeria, Guadalupe and Roberto received summer meals at a Lunch Bus stop in Chicago Heights.
This is the final entry in our yearlong series, 52 Stories, 52 Weeks. To read any of the other stories in the series, click here.

Life is full of challenges, bumps in the road. Some are larger than others, but what’s most important is how they’re overcome.

On a sunny, muggy day at Smith Park in Chicago Heights, 3-year-old Roberto and 7-year-old Guadalupe Alcala’s most pressing challenge was accidentally getting whacked in the face with a soccer ball.

While Guadalupe nursed her lip and Roberto rubbed his eye, the children’s mother silently faced overcoming a larger challenge: hunger.

“It’s really hard to make ends meet,” Maria said. “Food is starting to get really expensive. Two lemons cost $1. That’s too much.”

Maria is working part-time at a laundromat, while her husband works full-time in a lumber yard. Their monthly budget leaves little room for food.

“With my husband’s salary, it takes us two checks to pay our rent, and then we can use whatever is left for water, electric, phone bills,” she said.

While the family does receive SNAP benefits, their food budget becomes especially tight during the summer, since the children no longer eat breakfast and lunch at school.

That’s why Maria, Roberto, Guadalupe and 6-year-old Valeria were at Smith Park. They were waiting for the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus.

“The Lunch Bus provides my kids a place to play, and they get to eat lunch,” Maria said. “It provides a little bit of help.”

When the bus arrived, nearly 100 ecstatic children lined up to receive meals at the park.

“My favorite part of today’s lunch was the cheese,” Guadalupe said, a rope of string cheese hanging from both sides of her mouth.

“Mine was the muffin,” Valeria chipped in.

The Lunch Bus makes 21 stops on three different routes across Cook County every weekday during the summer, distributing meals with a sandwich, fruit and vegetables.

“This program doesn’t benefit just my kids. Everyone else’s kids benefit from this,” Maria said.

For Maria, the Lunch Bus provides the food her children need to stay healthy and active during the summer. It’s one way she’s overcoming hunger.

As for Roberto and Guadalupe, it didn’t take long to overcome their playground bumps. The redness quickly faded and the tears were wiped away. After finishing lunch, they picked themselves up and headed back into the park, arm-in-arm, carefree and ready to tackle another summer day.

Friday, June 20, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'They're like a second family'

Whether homeless, employed or retired, Derrick can count on Grant Memorial AME's soup kitchen and food pantry for a consistent source of quality food.
At 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, dozens of people gather at Grant Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood to enjoy a hot meal. Many arrive early to socialize, play piano and sing along with their fellow neighbors. Once everyone's seated, however, it becomes clear that food is the focal point.

“It’s good food,” said Derrick Lucas, enjoying a plate of roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and beans. “And they’re good people.”

In addition to hot meals, Derrick has benefited from the bags of food Grant Memorial AME, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency, distributes through its food pantry.

“There aren’t too many churches that both feed you and give you a big bag of food,” Derrick said.

Since Derrick lives on his own, these bags of food will last him roughly two weeks.

Derrick has gone to the Grant Memorial AME soup kitchen and food pantry off and on for the past 10 years. Like many of the individuals eating with him, Derrick learned about these programs through word-of-mouth.

“I found out about this place a long time ago, and that’s when I really needed it,” he said. “I was homeless, I wasn’t working … This place kept me from being hungry a lot of days.”

Even as Derrick transitioned into a job in manual labor, Grant Memorial AME remained a necessary food source.

“Manual labor – it’s hard,” he said. “Any time you can have a nutritious meal … that helps. You can’t work on an empty stomach.”

Unfortunately, pre-existing knee and back conditions took a toll on Derrick’s body despite his healthy diet, making manual labor a less feasible option. Now retired and receiving disability benefits, Derrick begins a new chapter in his life – and Grant Memorial AME, just as it has in the past 10 years, provides consistent aid amidst change.

“You can’t really go hungry around here,” Derrick said. “They’re (the volunteer staff) like a second family.”

And it’s this neighborhood feel – piano music playing in the background and the universal need for quality food bringing people together – that keeps Derrick coming back week after week, year after year.

“I come here not only because I have to – but because I want to,” he said.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why We Walk

With just two days left until the 29th Annual Hunger Walk, the “Why I Walk” blog series concludes with some of the reasons YOU walk. Thank you for sharing your motivation with us on Facebook and Twitter. We look forward to seeing everyone at the Hunger Walk on Saturday!
  • Lisa: I walk to help those who need it. You never know what curves life will throw your way. One day I, or a friend or family member, may need to utilize a food pantry.
  • Being undernourished should not exist as a roadblock to reaching one's full potential in our society.
  • Rachel: I walk for the individuals and families who need it.
  • Chicago Tribune Community Giving: There are too many people without food. This is a great cause to help others right here in our city.
  • Mae: I walk because I don’t think that in 2014 people should be walking around hungry and homeless every day.
  • Reginald: I’m walking because I appreciate the pantry giving me food!
  • Monique: Stopping hunger motivates me to walk!
  • Nessa: I know that it could be me on the streets, homeless and hungry. For this reason – it keeps me humble.
  • Redeeming Grace Pantry: We walk because together, we can end hunger.
There’s still plenty of time to sign up for the Hunger Walk. Visit to register or find more information. To see other entries in the Why I Walk series, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I Walk: Kathy Morris

In anticipation of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 29th Annual Hunger Walk on June 21 at Soldier Field, we’re asking people what motivates them to take a step towards ending hunger. In this entry, Kathy Morris, of St. Ignatius Church Food Pantry in Rogers Park, explains what motivates her to participate in the Hunger Walk.

I’ve been participating in the Hunger Walk for a long time. I think the first time I attended was in 1989 or 1990. That first year, we were hoping to raise enough to afford food to distribute at Christmas. It was a bigger push the next year, and the year after that. Since then, the fundraising we’ve been able to do around the Hunger Walk has just grown and grown, and it’s taught me one thing – people in our community have made a strong commitment to ending hunger.

This year, we expect to raise close to $6,500 from the Hunger Walk. That will help us distribute food all year. So, why I walk is pretty simple: The Hunger Walk essentially feeds the community we serve. It enables us to order all the food we need and make sure that food gets onto the tables of needy families in Rogers Park. Plus, the money we raise at the Hunger Walk frees up other funds during the year that we can use for additional specialized items and programming, including nutrition classes for our clients.

The Hunger Walk doesn’t only afford us the chance to raise funds. It also gives perspective. Operating the pantry, I rarely see all the other people in the Food Depository’s network who are fighting the same fight every day. But when we come together at the Hunger Walk, I see the bigger picture. I realize that the Chicagoland community believes that one day we can end hunger. I can’t do it myself, but when I gather with more than 13,000 of my dearest friends, maybe we can.

The final “Why I Walk” entry next week will feature your motivation! Tell us why you’re walking in the 29th Annual Hunger Walk by using the hashtag #No1ShouldGoHungry on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, June 13, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: The spring in his step

Bob "Ziggy" Anderson takes a 10-minute walk to the St. Ignatius Church Food Pantry each time he visits. The items he receives from the pantry as well as the exercise he gets on the way there help keep him healthy.
Bob Anderson, a resident of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, goes by the nickname Ziggy. It helps him stand out, he says.  
“There are a million Bobs out there – but not a ton of Ziggys.”
And stand out he does.
At 80 years old, Ziggy is physically fit, his stride almost as quick as his wit. When Kathy Morris, director of Food Depository member agency St. Ignatius Church Food Pantry, asked Ziggy what he likes in his coffee, he replied, “Everything in it except your pointer finger.”
Ziggy and Kathy met 18 months ago through a mutual friend who told a struggling Ziggy about the food pantry. Since then, the pantry director and client have become friends themselves.
A cook by trade, Ziggy left his job at Evanston Hospital in 2006, leaving him with little money to fall back on during the recession. He has attempted to re-enter the workforce, though he admits that the prospects are slim.
Meanwhile, Ziggy receives Social Security benefits as well as $16 per month in SNAP benefits. He also lives with two roommates to save on rent. Still, these sources of income aren’t enough to make ends meet.
“I never thought I’d go to a pantry,” he said.
Ziggy has benefited from St. Ignatius for a year and a half: “longer than I thought I would.”
Still, as a former cook, he’s happy with the food he receives.
“I like what I take,” Ziggy said.
Ziggy usually gets an assortment of fresh produce, canned items, cereal, chicken and eggs. On top of the food, Ziggy enjoys the pantry’s friendly atmosphere.
“The people here are nice,” he said.
The aid Ziggy gets at St. Ignatius helps him maintain the spring in his step in more ways than one.
“It meant some relief,” he said. “My savings, they’re depleted. This food helps me both financially and naturally.”
On top of being a much-needed source of food, each trip to St. Ignatius Church is a pleasant stroll that keeps the 80-year-old’s blood pumping.
“I walk down here with a cart. It’s a 10-minute walk,” he said. “I don’t want anyone helping me carry this.”

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why I Walk: Rodney Precht

In anticipation of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 29th Annual Hunger Walk on June 21 at Soldier Field, we’re asking people what motivates them to take a step towards ending hunger. In this entry, Rodney Precht, a Food Depository volunteer, explains what motivates him to participate in the Hunger Walk.

I’ve been volunteering at the Food Depository about three times a month since 2012. It’s an adventure I never tire of going on. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I’m just happy to be giving back. Whether it’s repacking cereal, or gleaning carrots, I know I’m fighting hunger. Sometimes I volunteer with a group of people from my church, but sometimes I go by myself. Either way, it’s great fun to get something accomplished and meet new people.

 Why do I do it? Because you can’t be blind to the evidence that’s right in front of you. Hunger is a real issue in our community, and volunteering is one way to make an immediate impact on hunger.

The same goes for the Hunger Walk. It’s something that anyone can do, and an adventure that’s open to everyone. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it makes a big impact. So that’s why I’m walking. It’s just my small way of saying, “Hunger has no place in our community.” And when thousands of people join me at Soldier Field on June 21, I know that small statement will add up to something big.

Friday, June 6, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: ‘This food – it makes one come to life’

Norberta Almazan Bahena received bags of fresh produce from a Producemobile in Logan Square, which helps her maintain a healthy lifestyle as a diabetic.
Note: Norberta is a Spanish-speaking client, so her quotes have been translated for the purposes of this piece.

Norberta Almazan Bahena is on the cusp of two milestones: she’s turning 73 in a few weeks, and 2014 marks her 40th year living in the United States. For her, picking up two large bags of food during her first visit to the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Producemobile distribution at the McCormick Tribune Y in Logan Square serves as an early – and important – birthday present.

Having migrated from Mexico City to Chicago to better her economic situation, Norberta admits her plan didn’t work out as expected.

“I didn’t make as much of a fortune, but I’m content. With little money – and illness – but I make do,” she said.

Norberta worked a number of jobs over the course of her career, her responsibilities ranging from sewing and washing clothes to serving food in restaurants to working with manufacturing equipment. She was laid off from her last job and hasn’t had a steady income since 2001.

Since then, making ends meet has been a challenge.

“There will be days when there’s very little in my refrigerator,” Norberta said. “A small piece of bread, a couple pieces of fruit, a little bit of milk.”

Now, thanks to the Producemobile, Norberta's fridge is full of fresh fruits and vegetables such as beets, cabbage, corn and melons.

As a diabetic, Norberta finds maintaining a healthy diet especially difficult.

“You have to pay a premium for healthy food,” she said. “But this food – it makes one come to life.”

Despite the obstacles she has faced trying to stay nourished on a limited budget, Norberta stays positive, explaining that the best antidote to adversity is willpower.

“You have to fight ... to maintain a good life balance,” she said.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Illinois child nutrition resolution passes state House, Senate

Food Depository advocates met with lawmakers to discuss the Child Nutrition Resolution on Lobby Day in Springfield. Here, advocates meet with State Senator Iris Martinez.
In early May, more than 300 anti-hunger advocates rallied at the Illinois State Capitol and met with more than 80 lawmakers in just three hours. They advocated for support of the 2014 Child Nutrition Resolution (HR 1047/SR 1115), which encourages increased access to summer meals for children.

The resolution suggests schools that participate in the School Breakfast Program utilize alternate delivery models which would expand availability of meals. It also encourages Summer Food Service Program sites to operate as open sites to further increase access to meals. And, the resolution urges Congress to develop a 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization that protects and strengthens the federal food and nutrition safety net for children.

Last week, the House and Senate approved the resolution. The House version had 24 co-sponsors and the Senate version had 22 co-sponsors. This success is a victory for the anti-hunger advocates who met with lawmakers in Springfield. Without their dedication and perseverance, the child hunger resolution would not have been adopted.

But, there is still much work to be done. In the coming months, lawmakers in Washington will begin discussing the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, which authorizes all federal child nutrition programs including school breakfast and lunch. It is critical that child nutrition programs be protected, and the Food Depository will continue to make sure lawmakers are aware of their impact.

Thank you to all of our advocates for your hard work and commitment. You are an important part of the fight against hunger.

Learn more about the Food Depository’s advocacy work, or watch a video recap of the 2014 Lobby Day in Springfield.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why I Walk: Bob Russell

Bob Russell will attend the Hunger Walk with more than 120 others from the Union Avenue UMC Food Pantry in Canaryville.
In anticipation of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 29th Annual Hunger Walk on June 21 at Soldier Field, we’re asking people what motivates them to take a step towards ending hunger. In this entry, Bob Russell, a volunteer and client at Union Avenue UMC Food Pantry in Canaryville, explains his motivation for attending the Hunger Walk.

When my wife passed away, things were so difficult for my family. Not only were we dealing with an unimaginable loss, we were also suddenly struggling to afford food. I wasn’t sure where to turn, so I went to a place my wife had once volunteered – the Union Avenue Food Pantry in my neighborhood.

Plain and simple, without the food my four children and I got at the pantry, I don’t know if we would have made it. I’m extremely grateful for the help I received at the pantry. I think it saved my family. Ever since, I’ve been volunteering at Union Avenue and everyone there has become family to me.

And that’s why I walk.

I want to give back to the pantry family that so willingly helped my children and I in a time of need. I look forward to the Hunger Walk every year for that reason. It’s a way for me to say “thanks” and it’s also a way to be together as a community. Because when I’m walking with people of all ages - and with the 120 people Union Avenue is bringing to the Hunger Walk this year - I know that we’re all a family with one mission: to fight hunger. And for me, that’s really inspiring.

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Feeding a new family

Brian Perez receives food from a pantry in Melrose Park, which helps him take care of his new family.
Brian Perez is 21 years old. He is married with a young son and daughter. As a new father, he wants nothing more than to provide for his family. But he is struggling.

“We’re going through a tough time right now,” he said. “It’s really hard.”

Brian had a job in roofing, but was laid off. He’s now working at a temp agency, jumping between retail and warehouse work, to try to make ends meet. The problem is, some weeks he works nearly 40 hours, but others he works less than five. And, he’s been unsuccessful at finding a full-time job.

“No one is hiring for steady jobs right now. I can’t get anything,” he said.

Most of Brian’s paycheck is used to pay rent. He’s living in a studio apartment with his wife and two children.

“We still owe half of this month’s rent,” he said.

Brian has practically nothing left over every month to buy food for his family, which is why he started going to a Greater Chicago Food Depository food pantry in Melrose Park once a month. There, he receives produce, meat, bread and nonperishable food.

Between the food he gets at the pantry and the $200 per month he receives in SNAP benefits, Brian can focus on finding a full-time job, and doesn’t have to worry about feeding his family.

“As long as my family is eating, I’m okay. And I know things will work out,” he said.

Friday, May 23, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: From homeless to feeding others

Isaac, left, and Will operate the Preston Bradley Center's lunch program in Uptown.
A warm smile, a safe haven and a hearty meal. Isaac Barentine and Will Pruit know the importance of all three - especially for someone who’s homeless.

“Having a good meal means you’ve got one less thing to worry about that day. It gives you stability and a sense of hope,” said Will.

Isaac and Will operate a lunch program six days a week at the Preston Bradley Center in the Uptown neighborhood. Every day, they’re working to feed those in need. But it wasn’t always that way. Not long ago, they were both homeless.

“I came to Chicago from Detroit after being laid off,” said Isaac. “I got into some things and made some bad decisions and was homeless for close to six years.”

But Isaac decided he wanted to change his ways and eventually got a job driving trucks. In 2002, he took over the lunch program full-time.

“There are good people here,” he said. “There are people that need just a tiny bit of sunlight in their lives for them to make something of themselves. This helps them do that.”

Will met Isaac in 2008, when Will was homeless and came to the program looking for a warm meal.

“I was raised to thank the person who made my meal,” Will said. “So one day, after I ate here, I went up to Isaac and said, ‘Thank you. Is there anything I can do to help before I leave?’ And Isaac asked if I was serious. I said yes, and he told me that they were short-staffed that day and needed help cleaning dishes in the kitchen. We’ve been working together ever since.”

Will is now the program’s volunteer coordinator, and he and Isaac have become best friends.

“He’s not just my boss, he’s my big brother. We’ve been through a lot together,” he said.

Because of Isaac and Will’s hard work, the meal program served more than 28,000 meals last year, prepared from 56,000 pounds of food from the Food Depository.

“There’s a real need for this program in this community,” Isaac said. “This might be the only meal our guests get all day. So we have to make it the best meal possible.” 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why I Walk: Cathy Moore

In anticipation of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 29th Annual Hunger Walk on June 21 at Soldier Field, we’re asking people what motivates them to take a step towards ending hunger. In this entry in the series, Cathy Moore, director of Saint James Food Pantry in Bronzeville, writes about why she’s walking June 21.

I am passionate about alleviating hunger. I always have been.

But at St. James Food Pantry, we work on such a small level. We serve two ZIP codes out of the hundreds in Cook County. Hunger is much more than just those two ZIP codes. It’s more than just Chicago. It’s an issue that affects our entire community.

I’m not saying we don’t fight hunger at Saint James, because we do, vigorously. We serve nearly 2,000 individuals per month, with distributions three days per week and we touch neighborhoods from the South Loop to Douglas. What I’m saying is; I want to fight hunger on a larger level. I want to be a part of a movement. And that’s why I walk.

The Hunger Walk is a chance to be part of an event that is so much more than a 5K walk. It’s a chance to network with other agencies, it’s a chance for my food pantry volunteers to grow as a team and most importantly, it’s a rally that shows we won’t stand for hunger in our community.

For more information or to register for the Hunger Walk, visit

Friday, May 16, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'This enables me to feed my daughter'

Heidi, from Maywood, struggles to afford food for her 9-year-old daughter.
In order for her 9-year-old daughter to have a healthy life, Heidi is more than willing to make sacrifices in her own life.

One of those sacrifices is food.

“I’ve been skipping meals so my daughter can eat,” she said. “We don’t have a lot as it is, but what little we do have I give to her when there’s not enough for both of us.”

Heidi is on disability and receives $152 per month in SNAP benefits. She’s unable to work more than 25 hours per week, so finding a job to support her daughter has been difficult.

“I’m able to pay for a roof over my head and can barely make my utility payments, but I don’t have anything left over for food,” she said.

Heidi visits the Canaan AME Church food pantry in Maywood once a week.

“When you don’t get that much in SNAP, anything helps,” Heidi said.

At the pantry, Heidi receives meat, produce and nonperishable food.

“It enables me to feed both my daughter and myself,” she said.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

May 2014 Advocacy Update

Anti-hunger advocates rallied at the State Capitol on Lobby Day.
A throng of more than 300 anti-hunger advocates in green shirts chanted “end hunger now!” as they marched up the steps of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on May 1. The group of advocates, participants in the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s annual Lobby Day, had one mission: to make sure lawmakers knew that no one – especially children – should go hungry in Illinois.

“I came to Springfield to advocate for the voices that can’t be heard,” said Theodore Schroeder, an advocate from Circle Urban Ministries. “I want to be the voice of the child who’s sitting at home with a grumbling stomach, so we can make sure not one child goes hungry this summer. Every voice makes a difference.”

After a rally in the Capitol Rotunda, advocates visited more than 80 lawmaker offices in just three hours. They asked for support of SR 1115/HR 1047 to improve children’s access to summer meals, and suggested legislators visit child nutrition sites in their districts.

“Many parents and grandparents come to our pantry because they can’t feed their children,” said Carol Thomas, of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Morgan Park. “With summer coming up, it’s going to be even more difficult for these families to keep their children fed.”

Raising awareness of summer programs and supporting access to summer meals is critically important. During summer break, children lose two meals per day they would otherwise be receiving at school. According to the USDA, only 11.5 percent of the children who receive free and reduced price meals during the school year utilize summer feeding programs.

The day prior to the rally, advocates attended the Illinois Commission to End Hunger Summit, which included updates on the Commission’s work, a keynote speech from David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and various educational breakout sessions.

For Amber Duerwaechter, a Community Services Coordinator at the Food Depository who went to Springfield for the first time, the experience was about building coalition with other organizations across the state.

“The sessions were incredibly energizing,” she said. “It was rewarding to see all the agencies coming together to create a community.”

Visit the Food Depository’s Flickr page to see photos taken by the advocates of the Hunger Summit and Lobby Day. And, watch a short video recap of Lobby Day below.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I Walk: Sandra Gillespie

Pastor Sandra Gillespie has been attending the Hunger Walk for the past eight years.
In anticipation of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 29th Annual Hunger Walk on June 21 at Soldier Field, we’re asking people what motivates them to take a step towards ending hunger. In the first entry of the series, Pastor Sandra Gillespie, of Chosen Tabernacle Ministries in Grand Boulevard, writes about why she’s walking June 21.

It’s hard out there. It really is. The numbers at our food pantry are through the roof. More of my clients than ever are working, but they still can’t feed their families. We feed men, women and children. We feed parents who can't make a living wage, older adults who struggle on a fixed income, and everyone in between.

I’m walking so that everyone in Chicago, in Cook County, knows that the people we serve exist. I’m walking because we need to end the misguided thinking that hunger does not happen in this community, because it does.

And I’m walking because we must feed hungry people, and the Hunger Walk is an excellent way to do that.

The Hunger Walk is our largest fundraiser of the year. We bring about 100 people – volunteers, clients, members of the church. Last year, we raised nearly $2,000. Our pantry isn’t a big operation. We have to really hustle throughout the year to make it work, but with the money we raise, we can sustain the pantry and we can get food to the people who need it in the Grand Boulevard community.

For more information or to register for the Hunger Walk, visit

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

On the Table: How do we end hunger in Cook County?

Rev. Sandra Gillespie and Rev. Harriette Cross exchange ideas at
the Food Depository's On the Table dinner.
How do we end hunger in Cook County? That was the question posed Monday evening as the Greater Chicago Food Depository brought together 30 anti-hunger advocates as part of The Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table event.

All across Chicago, more than 10,000 people of all ages, from all walks of life gathered at tables on May 12 to share meals and discuss how to collaboratively build and maintain strong, safe and dynamic communities. The meals were held in honor of the Trust's 99th anniversary. The Food Depository used the occasion to gather its champion advocates – many of whom recently traveled to Springfield for Lobby Day – for a conversation on how to build a hunger-free Chicago.

Dinner was prepared by Chicago’s Community Kitchens, the Food Depository’s 14-week workforce development program that equips unemployed and underemployed adults with foodservice job training.

Throughout the meal, advocates wrote ideas on cards so their thoughts can be shared with the Chicago Community Trust and Food Depository stakeholders. The Food Depository will continue its work with champion advocates and member agencies to turn these ideas into action. These are some of their thoughts:

Anti-hunger advocates wrote down their ideas for ending hunger in Cook County.
  • We need to lift our voice – more collective outrage. We are the greatest city in the greatest country in the world. No one should go hungry – ever. And yet, so many people are struggling. We need to tell the story, give voice – fight for change.
  • We must tell the stories of people who are hungry. We must empower people to be part of a movement.
  • Sharing knowledge and being strategic with our shared knowledge. Networking. We cannot solve this crisis on our own. We need to create strategic, collaborative, creative partnerships that last. And let’s work ourselves out of a job!
  • Let Chicago know the problem exists. Activate social media campaign – use every outlet possible. Elevate Hunger Action Month. Make hunger a 12 month initiative to promote. Advocate, advocate, advocate.
  • Educate. In this room we know people are going hungry. Many people throughout Illinois do not see or want to see hunger. We have to work to make people know hunger exists everywhere, it could be your neighbor. Once we have awareness and everyone owns this issue, we can move mountains and end hunger.
  • Every American age 3-100 can articulate “no one in this country, state, city, neighborhood should be hungry.” All stakeholders need to do their part. Neighbors, politicians, schools, businesses, churches, financial institutions and government. 
  • Plant more community gardens in empty lots.
  • End waste. 40% of food is wasted. End waste, end hunger. Humanize the issue. Cooking/nutrition education. Robust safety net, economic development.
  • Change the meaning of food.
  • Admit and confess that hunger exists. Many times it is your next door neighbor. We should be more concerned about others even if it means going door to door asking if they are in need.
  • Awareness. Understanding how close we all are to this problem. And understanding all of the related problems that exist as a result of food insecurity.
  • Supply a list of local food pantries and soup kitchens at each school. Teachers have a feel and often communicate with children and know who is not eating.
  • Plant a seed. Educate children how to grow food so they gain more respect for food and its value.
  • Make mealtimes an integral part of school curriculum, where children never take healthy meals for granted.