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.