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.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'I know things will get better'

Lisa Gant was recently laid off from a job in logistics. She now receives food from a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in Melrose Park.
Just last year, Lisa Gant was making $60,000 per year at her job in logistics. But, she got laid off and since then, she’s run into health problems.

“I’m pretty much at the end of my savings right now,” she said.

Her unemployment benefits recently ran out. She does receive $189 per month in SNAP benefits, but has no other money to afford food.

“SNAP just doesn’t cut it,” she said. “Food is expensive.”

About a month ago, Lisa found the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish food pantry, in Melrose Park. There, she receives fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, pasta, tuna and other nonperishable items once a month.

“It helps me make ends meet,” she said.

Despite her recent challenges, Lisa knows the best way to cope with adversity is to have a positive attitude.

“Just because you’re down right now doesn’t mean you’re always down. I know things will get better.”

Friday, May 2, 2014

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Food and music

Phillip Best plays the piano during meals at Breaking Bread Ministries on the Near North Side.
Smooth, confident chords poured from a piano in the dining room at Breaking Bread Ministries on a recent Wednesday. At the keys was Phillip Best, who receives a hot meal from the Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency on the Near North Side once a week.

“I was in really bad shape when I first came here,” he said. “I had fallen on hard times and I was on the verge of being on the streets.”

Phillip, 59, began coming to Breaking Bread in August of 2012, after he lost his job at a hotel. He had worked in hospitality for five years.

“I know I can count on a good, healthy meal here every Wednesday. It helps,” he said.

Without a job, Phillip fell four months behind on his rent. But, staff at Breaking Bread helped connect him with a temporary work agency, and soon after, he was hired full-time by a legal support company.

“With the job, I was able to pay off my rent and my phone bill,” Phillip said. “I’m still working on a few things but I’m doing better.”

Phillip still comes to the meal on Wednesday nights, as he slowly gets back on his feet. He helps set tables and clean up when there aren’t enough volunteers. And when he’s not helping out, you can usually find him sitting at the piano, playing Stevie Wonder.

“I grew up with a piano in my house and have been playing since I was young. I love music. The piano, this place, it’s a good release for me,” he said.

Watch Fox Chicago's profile on Phillip.