Friday, February 28, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Receiving food, feeding others

Eileen Poeppel has been volunteering at Irving Park Community Food Pantry for eight years.
Every Wednesday morning, 66-year-old Eileen Poeppel catches a bus at 5:15 a.m. to reach the Irving Park Community Food Pantry by 6 a.m., three hours before the pantry opens. She’s there to receive food, but she’s also there to help out.

For the past eight years, Eileen has been managing the small kitchen at the food pantry. She serves snacks and warm coffee to clients waiting to receive their food.

“It’s nice to help a place that is helping me,” she said.

Eileen first came to the pantry nearly 10 years ago. She was on disability and had been let go from a job in customer service. Now, she is receiving social security, which helps pay for medical expenses related to her diabetes, but she still doesn’t have enough left over to pay for the groceries she needs.  So, she turns to the food pantry for essentials.

“I get most of my vegetables at the food pantry,” Eileen said. “It’s so expensive otherwise.”

In addition to produce, Eileen receives meat and shelf-stable items from the pantry, which is especially important since she is also taking care of her son-in-law and his three children, while he recovers from surgery.

Eileen’s age and diabetes make it difficult to get around and her tight budget makes paying for public transportation difficult. But, she is committed to a cause that helped her.

“Doing my part here is completely worth it,” she said.

Friday, February 21, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'I have about $5 left'

Before he retired, Mike Berilla was a retail store manager and auditor. His Social Security isn't enough to support his family so he goes to a Food Depository pantry in South Chicago Heights.
Mike Berilla is retired. But for him, retirement doesn’t come with the financial security that many would hope for.

He and his wife are struggling to get by on his $1,000 per month in Social Security, and her income working as a part-time tax clerk.

“I’m supposed to get my Social Security check this week,” he said. “That’ll help a lot, because right now I have about $5 left for food.”

Before Mike retired, he worked as a retail store manager and an insurance auditor. But, his savings haven't been enough to get by every month. He wants to go back to work to help take the burden off his wife but has been unable to find a job.

“It’s been rough, especially with the increased utility costs this winter,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been coming to Alicia’s House pantry for the last few months.”

At the pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in South Chicago Heights, Mike receives bags of shelf-stable items, as well as meat and fresh fruit and vegetables.

“It’s tough to make ends meet for my family, but you just have to live within your means,” Mike said. “This pantry helps me do that.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'This pantry is keeping me alive'

Linda Garcia has been receiving food from the St. Francis Xavier Church food pantry since she lost her job in sales.
On a bitterly cold Tuesday morning in La Grange, Linda Garcia was waiting in line at the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church’s food pantry 30 minutes before the doors opened. She pulled her coat closer and put her hands in her pockets.

“I’m severely diabetic, so when I don’t have enough food, I get really sick,” she said. “This pantry is literally keeping me alive.”

Linda, 63, has been coming to St. Francis Xavier for nearly two years, since she lost her job in sales and soon after got sick. She receives $720 per month in Social Security, but most of that is used for rent and utilities. With an extremely tight budget, she needs help affording the essentials that her diet requires.

“When you’re diabetic, you have to eat healthy,” she said. “But I can’t afford fruit, vegetables or meat at the grocery store, so it’s difficult.”

At the SFX Food Pantry, Linda receives the nutritious food she needs to stay healthy and manage her diabetes – strawberries, bananas, potatoes, carrots, chicken and more.

“The pantry makes sure that I have enough to eat,” she said. “This place and the Food Depository are saving people’s lives. You’re really helping.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

1 City, 1 Food Drive collects more than 1 million meals

The 1 City, 1 Food Drive kickoff was held in the south lobby of the Merchandise Mart.
Throughout November and December, the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 1 City, 1 Food Drive effort collected shelf-stable food donations with the help of 500 partners across Cook County. This year’s campaign brought in more than 565,000 pounds and $242,185 which is the equivalent of nearly 1.2 million meals for our hungry neighbors.

Highlights of this year’s effort included the food drive kickoff event, held in November at the Merchandise Mart. The event brought together more than 100 Food Depository supporters in a festive rally with live entertainment that officially signaled the start of food drive season. This year’s top food drive was the ABC 7 Spirit of Giving drive, which collected more than 113,000 pounds of food. Also this year, the Chicago Bulls Food Drive collected more than 69,700 pounds of food in partnership with 33 different Chicago Public Schools, making it the second-largest food drive of the season.

The 1 City, 1 Food Drive campaign is always an inspiring example of our community coming together to proclaim that no one should go hungry. Thanks to all of our food drive partners! We look forward to working with you again next year!

2013 Top 5 Food Drives: 
  1. ABC 7 Spirit of Giving – 113,561 lbs
  2. Chicago Bulls – 69,782 lbs
  3. Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago – 67,624 lbs
  4. Boy Scouts Scouting for Food – 28,223 lbs
  5. New Trier Township High School – 22,197 lbs
Food drives are needed year-round! Click here to register.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Food Depository AmeriCorps member helps shape, grow new agency

Alyssa DeLuca (kneeling in front) 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 Alyssa DeLuca, who is currently serving at the Coppin Community Center, a new Food Depository member agency in Washington Park.

As a Greater Chicago Food Depository AmeriCorps member, capacity building is the prime focus of my work at Coppin Community Center, as we respond to increased need in the Washington Park neighborhood.  On October 15, 2012, the day the pantry opened, we served nine clients. One year later on the same date, 76 clients visited the pantry. In January 2014, we saw as many as 128 clients in a single night. The need we see every week corroborates what the statistics show - which is that in Washington Park, the food insecurity rate is 45 percent. That means nearly half of the community's population doesn't know where their next meal is coming from. But numbers only tell part of the story.

Every Monday night, when our pantry is open, I see just how prevalent hunger is in Washington Park. I see the need on people’s faces, but I also see clients’ smiles when we greet them with large bags of food. Their smiles are the biggest when they receive extra meat or bread. And, despite the cold weather, the room fills with warm conversation. Every week I see new clients who look me in the eye and say, “Thank you all for doing this. It means so much to me.”

Lately, I have been registering about 30 new clients per week. In order to address the increasing need, we are expanding capacity through the Food Depository’s Food Rescue Program, which will provide an additional 1,500 pounds of fresh fruit, vegetables, and protein for us to distribute each week. This food will supplement the 2,000 pounds we typically order from the Food Depository each week.

In addition to more food, I am expanding Coppin’s volunteer base by streamlining the process for recruiting, training, managing and retaining volunteers. They’re crucial to the pantry’s operation and they foster a positive environment by treating both each other and the clients we serve with dignity, respect and kindness. Recently, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by opening our pantry volunteer positions to individuals and groups from all over the city.

The Coppin Community Center will continue to expand and I look forward to assisting with those efforts. For example, we plan to distribute a survey to our clients to determine exactly what type of services they need or prefer. We are also opening a new computer lab and library that will be available during our pantry hours for clients after they pick up their food. And in the future, we hope to offer an exercise program to get people moving along with nutrition education and services from health screenings to yoga classes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Shattered, not broken

Robert Lewis, right, chooses bread at Operation Blessing in Alsip.
Five years ago, Robert Lewis’ life changed in an instant. Driving one afternoon, a car ran a red light and slammed into the side of his vehicle at 70 miles per hour.

“I got t-boned,” he said. “There was nothing I could have done.”

In critical condition, he was rushed to the emergency room. The crash had severely injured his back and left him paralyzed. He would spend a year and a half in the hospital, recovering and learning to walk again.

After Robert was discharged, he could no longer work as a security guard, as he had before the accident. Despite his wife working full-time, medical bills began piling up and his family was struggling to make ends meet.

But, the Operation Blessing food pantry in Alsip, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency, has helped his family get back on their feet.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “I get $380 per month in SNAP for my family of five, but that’s not enough to last us all month. This is a good supplement to what I buy at the store.”

While Robert’s life was sidetracked by his accident, he has begun to rebuild. He can now afford his medical bills, because of the food he’s receiving at the pantry. And, he recently stopped using his cane to get around.

“While I was in the hospital, I had one goal: if I could get up and walk to the window in my room, I knew I was ready to leave,” Robert said. “You have to have the willpower to accomplish what you want, and eventually I did. And that’s how I’m living my life.”