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.