Friday, April 25, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'This carries us'

James Sewell, 47, is a U.S. Army Veteran, who receives food from the Chosen Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church food pantry in Bronzeville.
James Sewell’s mother is in a wheelchair and on oxygen. His son is in college, and his niece is about to graduate high school. Living in the same household, he tries to support them, but he’s struggling.

“I’ve got a full-time job, but I don’t make nearly enough to support my family,” he said.

James works in maintenance and is a certified welder. He has a degree. He served in the Army from 1986 to 1993. After his service, he worked in construction, retail and other jobs.

Despite the consistent employment, he never made enough to save much money. So, about a year ago, he started visiting the Chosen Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church food pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository agency in the Bronzeville neighborhood, to help make ends meet.

“I started coming to the pantry out of necessity,” James said.

At the pantry, James receives necessities - fresh produce, canned food and meat - that help him feed his mother, son and niece.

“This carries us from one month to the next,” he said. “It’s tough out there, but this pantry is such a blessing.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'Grandma'

Linda Harper, right, picks out food at the St. Vincent de Paul Center food pantry. She's assisted by Outreach Program Manager Jenny Mohan, left.
To the kids in the St. Vincent de Paul Center’s childhood development program, Linda Harper is simply known as, “Grandma.”

“I help them grow, teach them not to be mean and to get along,” she said, smiling. “It’s rewarding.”

Linda, 65, volunteers at the center about 20 hours per week. She started back in 2011, when her life took an unexpected turn.

“I was working for the CTA, driving trains, but then I had a stroke,” she said.

Soon after, she had another stroke and had to go on disability. She knew she needed help affording food, so she applied for SNAP benefits, but they weren’t enough. That’s when she started coming to the St. Vincent de Paul Center’s food pantry.

“It helps me out with things I don’t have enough money to get at the grocery store,” she said. “I like the canned fruit. They also give me produce, bread, ground beef and more. It helps me last the month.”

It has been a long recovery from her two strokes, but Linda has overcome the obstacles.

“At first, I could barely walk and speak. My right hand would shake and I had a stutter,” she said. “But now, I’m back at 100 percent.”

As for her role as “Grandma,” she’s just happy to help the children.

“I think sometimes they get confused, calling me grandma at school and then having a grandma at home too,” she laughed. “But that’s okay. I’m just happy to be here.”

Friday, April 11, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: A glass half full

Ruben Garcia (left) and Guy Fones (right) recently received fresh produce for the first time at a Producemobile distribution in Evanston.
It’s evident that Ruben Garcia and Guy Fones have been best friends for a long time. They joke around; sometimes even finish each others’ sentences. They went to high school together on the Northwest Side of the city about 30 years ago.

“Guy and I, we’re like brothers,” said Ruben.

On a recent Tuesday, they visited a Greater Chicago Food Depository Producemobile distribution in Evanston. Both were receiving food assistance for the first time.

“This will help my family a lot,” Ruben said. “I’m already seeing things we can cook and use all week.”

Ruben worked in loss prevention for 20 years, but was laid off when the Recession started in 2008. His wife works full time and the family is trying to make ends meet to take care of their two young children.

He finally decided to seek assistance because the family has very little left.

“Basically right now we’re just going with the essentials,” Ruben said. “We have to adjust and live with what we have.”

Ruben found out about the Producemobile at his daughter’s school and called Guy to suggest he come too.

“I never thought I’d be in this position,” Guy said. “I’ll use all of this. I need it.”

Guy was an information technology consultant until being laid off in March 2012. Now receiving $120 per month in SNAP benefits, Guy works part-time in cleaning and sales.

“With the vegetables I’ll get here, I can make a big pot of soup and it will last me about a week,” Guy said.

He came to the Producemobile because his SNAP benefits for the month have already run out. He will not have any money for groceries until his Link card is refilled next month.

While Guy’s situation is difficult, he chooses to maintain a positive attitude.

“I’m two months behind on my car payment and my bank account is in the negative,” he said. “But I’m not giving up.”

Ruben shares that outlook.

 “The glass is half empty or it’s half full,” Ruben said. “I choose to see it half full.”

Friday, April 4, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: A baker's life

Paul Latture used to have a successful career at a commercial bakery, but was laid off in 2011.
Cakes, pies, donuts, cinnamon rolls. You name it and Paul Latture would make it at his job in a commercial bakery. And he loved it.

“I mostly worked on making donuts, but when the mood struck, the other bakers and I would experiment and make things for ourselves,” he smiled, recalling one specific concoction. “Once, we put some butter, cinnamon and apple slices on dough and made a pastry. It was delicious.”

Paul, 64, was laid off in 2011 after working at the bakery for seven years. Now, he can only afford to live in a kitchen-less studio apartment, so he no longer bakes. He hasn't been able to find a job, so he applied for early retirement.

“I've probably filled out 15,000 applications, but nothing,” he said. “I was planning on working well into my 70s.”

He struggles to live on his retirement check - only $604 per month - and $189 per month in SNAP benefits. But once a week, Paul receives a bag of fruit, vegetables, meat and nonperishable food from EZRA Multi-Service Center, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in Uptown.

“The cost of food, everything, is so high,” he said. “Without EZRA, it would be very, very hard to make it.”

In addition to the bags of food, Paul participates in a monthly cooking program at EZRA, giving him the opportunity to bake again. He also works the Link machine at a nearby farmer’s market, which enables SNAP recipients to purchase produce from the market.

“I really just want to try to help if I can,” he said.