Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A holiday wish come true

Orlando Collins overcame homelessness and hunger with the help of a Greater Chicago Food Depository partner agency.

In 2013, Orlando Collins spent Christmas in a homeless shelter.

He’d lost his job at a car wash the year before and the building he was living in got foreclosed on. Soon after, he found the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood.

“I thank God the shelter was there for me,” Orlando said. “It got me off the streets, stopped me from sleeping in abandoned buildings or trains.”

At the shelter, Orlando got a hot meal every day, prepared from food the shelter receives from the Food Depository.

“If it weren’t for this food, I wouldn’t have been able to stay focused. It really helped me move forward,” Orlando said.

While he was at the shelter, Orlando earned his food safety certification and started a part time job at a commercial kitchen. He had one wish.

“I really just want my own place to live,” he said in December 2013. “That’s what makes a difference. And this year, I think I can make that happen.”

And he did.

Orlando saved enough to pay rent and in July 2014 he moved out of the shelter and into a studio apartment in Wicker Park.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “I can open my own fridge; sleep in my own bed, there’s a real sense of pride to having my own place now.”

He also got a new job at a familiar place – the shelter. He’s working 35 hours per week, cooking all the dinners using food the agency receives from the Food Depository.

“I feel like I’m really giving something back,” he said. “I love cooking and seeing the smiles on the other people’s faces, but I also want to motivate the other guys. I did it. I want them to know they can succeed too.”

Orlando continues to get his life back on track and is starting to look toward the future. He hopes to open a restaurant one day. But before that, he’s looking forward to spending Christmas in his own home.

“I can’t wait to prepare a meal for my family,” he said, pausing. “It’s something I’ve been really looking forward to doing. It touches me and brings tears to my eyes. I’m proud that I’ve come this far.”

You can make an immediate impact in the lives of hungry people across our community by visiting  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

'This helped when I was down and out'

Jamaine Washington receives food at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital food pantry.

Jamaine Washington, a United States Army veteran of the 82nd Airborne, was stationed in Egypt during his tour from 1977 – 1983. When he returned home, he was expecting to live a normal life. But 10 years ago, his life was suddenly, unexpectedly shattered.

“I had a brain aneurysm,” the 58-year-old recalls. “I was lucky I didn’t die.”

Jamaine spent a month in the hospital recovering. At first, he couldn’t walk or talk and he temporarily lost his vision. After he was released from the hospital, he underwent months of rehabilitation.

Physically, he recovered enough to become independent again. But the aneurysm had other effects. After months of physical therapy and doctor’s visits, Jamaine’s savings were depleted. Unable to work and on disability, he couldn’t keep up with his rent payments and other bills.

“I was riding the L to stay warm some nights,” he said. “I was homeless for a time.”

Jamaine regularly came to the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital for checkups, so when the Greater Chicago Food Depository teamed with the hospital to open a food pantry for veterans inside the facility in November 2014, Jamaine was relieved.

“I’ve been coming to the pantry since it opened,” he said. “It’s helped me out a lot. To be blunt, I wouldn’t have food without it.”

Through the pantry, Jamaine was connected with housing assistance and he now lives in his own apartment near the VA. While he remains on disability, Jamaine no longer struggles with hunger and homelessness. His life is turning around.

"This helped me when I was down and out," Jamaine said. "And now I'm getting back on my feet."

Monday, October 26, 2015

Food Depository named a top charity by Chicago magazine

The November 2015 issue of Chicago magazine named the Greater Chicago Food Depository one of the area's best charities.

Chicago magazine recently named the Greater Chicago Food Depository one of the area's 20 best charities.

"Impressively, this mainstay goes right where the need is," writes the magazine. "Its Producemobile delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to food deserts, and its popular Lunch Bus serves free healthy lunches to kids throughout the city in the summer."

The Food Depository and other organizations were highlighted in the November 2015 issue of the magazine. Charities were chosen based on a number of criteria, including holding a four-star rating with Charity Navigator.

The magazine also applied four tests to assemble the final list: Does the organization have a unique mission? Does it have significant data to show its impact? Does it have a strong Chicago connection? And, how big a hole would be left if it disappeared?

In addition to the Food Depository, organizations that focus on justice, culture, children, education, community resources, pets, health and the environment were chosen. See the complete list and read the full story.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The 1 in 5: Giving back to the community

When Hector Perez was a child, he spent most of his days hungry.

“Sometimes, my brothers and sisters and I would each be given one banana for dinner,” he said. “Or, dinner would be white rice and ketchup or a fried egg.”

Hector grew up in the Humboldt Park community. His father passed away when he was young, so his mother raised him and his brothers and sisters. The family received food stamps, but often food didn’t last the entire month.

“Sometimes by the second week of the month, our food stamps were gone. I’d go home and lay in bed unable to sleep because my stomach hurt because I was hungry,” Hector said.

He knew he needed to start supporting himself, so when Hector was 14 years old, he got a summer job at the Union League Boys & Girls Club near his home.

“That’s really where my life started,” he said.

The Club helped stabilize Hector’s life and gave him direction. But, when he was enrolled, the Club did not have a meal program to address the need among children in the community.

Nearly 25 years later, Hector changed that.

After spending 17 years in retail, Hector returned to the Club as Senior Director. He knew that children were still going to bed hungry in the community and began a partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to offer Kids Cafe meals every day at the Club.

“It’s a struggle in this community,” he said. “People are out of work, families are making tough calls. Do I pay for electricity or do I buy food? And you know what? A lot of the time it’s the bills that get paid.”

Now, the Club serves healthy, nutritious meals to hundreds of children each week.

“These children are so happy to get the meals,” he said. “Families who struggled like mine will know that their children are getting the food they need to stay healthy.”

The Food Depository administers Kids Cafes, which are funded federally through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CACFP is just one of the programs authorized by the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. To learn more about Child Nutrition Reauthorization and how to advocate for strong children’s programs, visit

Friday, September 25, 2015

The 1 in 5: Child Nutrition Reauthorization update

A child eats a meal at a Kids Cafe in Pilsen.
“To me, this is a moral imperative. All children should have the food they need.”

Michele Zurakowski is passionate about feeding children. She’s a Greater Chicago Food Depository Champion Advocate and the executive director of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, a Food Depository partner agency.

“We have to make sure that we feed the children who are going to be the future of our country,” she said.

Michele has been to Washington, D.C. and Springfield a number of times to advocate for children’s programs. Most recently, she attended Lobby Day with the Food Depository in May and went to Washington in March.

In Washington, she was part of a group advocating for a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which funds children’s programs including school breakfast, lunch and summer meal programs, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization is set to expire September 30. Michele knows the impact those programs have, as half of the households the pantry serves includes a child.

“I see people coming to the pantry who are trying to do everything they can to make things right for their family and it’s motivating,” she said. “Without programs like school breakfast and lunch it would be hard for families.”

The U.S. Senate recently postponed a discussion on its version of the bill and the U.S. House has yet to announce plans for a Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill.

In the meantime, the Food Depository is advocating for the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act and the Summer Meals Act. These bills include priorities that could be incorporated into the final Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

If the House and Senate don’t approve a bill by September 30, the deadline to reauthorize the legislation could be extended to October 31.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The 1 in 5: A summer of feeding children

Itzel, Julian and their mother, Blanca, at the Resurrection Project Lunch Bus stop in Pilsen.

Every weekday this summer, just after 1 p.m., the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus pulled up to a church painted with vibrant murals in Pilsen. Some days, nearly 100 children anxiously waited as a daily ritual unfolded.

A volunteer set up a table. A door swung open. A smiling AmeriCorps member begins to distribute the meals and milk. The Lunch Bus has arrived.

Nine-year-old Itzel, her 2-year-old brother Julian and their mother Blanca were there nearly every day this summer.

“Everything is so expensive so this helps,” said Blanca. “We have to keep things tight right now.”

Blanca is currently unemployed, but her husband is working.

“His income just isn’t enough for us,” she said.

The children ate nutritious meals at the Lunch Bus stop, but Itzel’s favorite part about the Lunch Bus isn’t a specific food.

“Just having the lunch is my favorite part,” she said.

Scenes similar to this one occurred at 21 Lunch Bus stops each day this summer. In total, the Lunch Bus distributed approximately 42,900 meals. And, through all the Food Depository’s summer meal programs, 600,000 meals were delivered throughout Cook County – the organization’s largest-ever response to summer hunger.

The Food Depository’s summer hunger response would not be possible without the funding allocated by the Child Nutrition Reauthorization – a federal bill that funds children’s programs throughout the country. This legislation expired at the end of September. The Food Depository continues to advocate for a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization that helps ensure children have the food they need to grow up healthy. Learn how to make a difference at

Friday, August 28, 2015

The 1 in 5: Through a child's eyes

Seven-year-old Skyla eats lunch at the Miguel Barreto Union League Boys & Girls Club in Humboldt Park.
Why is it important for children to have healthy meals? What does it feel like when a child is hungry? Often, parents and teachers answer those questions. But a child’s insight can provide a different perspective. In this 1 in 5 story, children eat lunch and talk about why they think meal programs are important.

It was lunch time at the Miguel Barreto Union League Boys & Girls Club in Humboldt Park. A group of energized children skipped into the lunch room to find a turkey sandwich, apple and milk sitting at each chair. Laughing and talking to friends, the group sat down and began to eat.

“These apples make me really happy!” said 5-year-old Anastasia, proudly displaying a smile missing two baby teeth.

Seven-year-old Miles sat across the room from Anastasia. He was finishing his carton of milk.

“This is important to me because it means I can be healthy,” he said.

Meanwhile, 9-year-old Jose was just finishing his turkey sandwich. He doesn’t like being hungry at school.

“Being hungry at school is bad. If you’re hungry, you’re going to be thinking about the food and getting home,” he said. “We need to have healthy food so we can learn.”

At another table, Paulo, a 4th grader, knows that healthy food is an important part of growing up.

“Having food is good so that you can get strong and have lots of energy,” he said.

Six-year-old Mary Jane had slid under the bench at Paulo’s table. She popped her head up and giggled.

“Food is just good for me!” she exclaimed.

In Cook County, nearly 255,000 children – 1 in 5 – is at risk of hunger. On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization – the program that funds many children’s meal programs in our community – is set to expire. Encourage lawmakers to support these critical programs. Visit to get involved.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The 1 in 5: Summer need in the South Suburbs

Five-year-old Sarah enjoys a chicken salad sandwich at the Lansing Public Library Lunch Bus stop.
Debbie Albrecht stood in front of the Lansing Public Library, her eyes toward the street. The Lunch Bus would be arriving soon.

“I know that children and families are genuinely happy to see the Lunch Bus,” she said. “The demographics of this town have really changed. There’s a lot of need in the South Suburbs.”

Debbie is the director of the Lansing Public Library. She sees the need year-round, but it becomes more prevalent during the summer.

“Over half the children in our school system are receiving free or reduced-price meals,” she said.

The Lunch Bus works to fill the gap when school is out. The library is just one of seven stops the Lunch Bus made throughout the South Suburbs this summer, serving more than 200 children per day on average.

Five-year-old Sarah and 3-year-old Christina were among those children most days. Their grandmother, Luz, brought them to the Lansing Public Library stop as often as possible.

“They enjoy the vegetables and the chicken,” she said. “I love the fact that it’s a healthy lunch. That’s really important and it’s a big help.”

Luz, Sarah and Christina made the Lunch Bus part of their daily summer routine.

“This is what we do,” Luz said. “We come out, bring a blanket to put on the grass and relax. We sort of make it a picnic. They get a great meal and then they go in the library.”

Sarah, who is starting kindergarten this year, was candid about her favorite part of coming to the library.

“The food,” she said. “We like the carrots and the string cheese.”

Not far away, another group of children was receiving meals from the Lunch Bus. Their mother, Margo, looked on.

“This really helps my family,” she said. “It’s important.”

Margo is in school to receive a degree in nursing and only has a year left, but she is currently unemployed. She has been bringing her three children to the Lunch Bus off and on all summer.

“It’s a nutritious lunch that I know they’ll like,” she said.

City of Chicago Lunch bus routes continue until September 4. For more information on the Food Depository’s response to summer hunger, or to find summer meals sites near you, visit

Friday, July 31, 2015

The 1 in 5: Community organizers raise awareness of free summer meals

A door hanger left by COFI community organizers detailing how to access free summer meal programs.
“There are plenty of good people here,” Tara Williams said as she stood on the corner of 63rd St. and Carpenter Ave. in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

Her sentiments are echoed by her fellow community organizers Donna Carpenter, Valerie Carroll and Charlene Campbell. Tara, Donna and Valerie are longtime Englewood residents, and take extra pride in their community organizing efforts in Englewood.

The four women work with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) and spend their days canvassing high-need Chicago neighborhoods to increase awareness of free summer meal programs available for children.

“We go door to door, speaking with people and giving them packets of information about summer meals near them. We’ll also leave door hangers at houses where no one answers, and we hope that they read the information and use it or pass it along to a friend or family member,” said Charlene, a longtime COFI community organizer.
COFI community organizer Charlene Campbell knocks on the door of a home in the Englewood neighborhood.
The need for food assistance among children in Englewood is high. More than 60 percent of children live in poverty, which creates further barriers to a steady and nutritious food supply.

During the summer, COFI community organizers reach out to the community to spread the word about free summer meal sites on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Other COFI community organizers also canvass throughout South Lawndale in Chicago, and in suburban Cicero.

Even with a high number of Englewood residents facing food insecurity, the COFI community organizers are optimistic that their canvassing efforts are bringing a good service to residents everywhere they go.

With the help of summer meals outreach, the Food Depository is on track to serve more than 400,000 meals to children this summer through programs such as the Lunch Bus and a new meal distribution at five Chicago Public Library branches.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The 1 in 5: A book and a meal

Emily Clark and her father, Hillery, play board games at the Back of the Yards library after Emily finished her lunch.
At the library, 4-year-old Emily Clark was sharing some crackers with her shiny green dinosaur. Her father, Hillery, looked on.

“I’ll have to skip a meal sometimes, usually breakfast or lunch, but I really don’t want her to,” Hillery said.

That’s why Hillery brought Emily to the Back of the Yards Branch of the Chicago Public Library. This summer, the Chicago Public Library has partnered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to fight hunger in Cook County by offering free summer meals at five library branches throughout the community.

The partnership addresses a significant need – nearly 255,000 children are at risk of hunger in Cook County. And during the summer, children are at an increased risk of hunger because many no longer receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school.

“When kids are hungry, they can’t learn as well,” said Maggie Clemons, the Back of the Yards Branch Manager. “We have a lot of kids in the community who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school, so these kids are able to eat meals here during the summer.”

For Hillery, the library meals program is an important safety net. He has been taking part-time carpentry jobs, but hasn’t been able to find full-time employment for the last three years. His wife is disabled and cannot work, so their budget is tight.

“I can’t make rent without working right now,” Hillery said. “And we’ve been paying the gas company $100 a month since January, but we still owe them money.”

At the library, children receive nutritious, shelf-stable meals. The Back of the Yards Branch serves approximately 30 meals per day.

“I’m really happy that we’re part of the program,” Maggie said. “It fits well with the library’s mission of strengthening the community and encouraging learning.”

Meanwhile, Emily and her dinosaur have finished lunch and moved on to play dress-up. As she ties a colored scarf around the stuffed animal’s neck, her father smiles.

“She seems to enjoy the program. She’s having fun, so everyone’s happy,” he said.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The 1 in 5: Beyond the meal

Maintaining a consistent, healthy diet is critical for children's development, acording to Dr. Angela Odoms-Young.
For children, food is critical to a healthy life. Meal programs throughout Cook County provide an important source of nutrition support, but their benefits go well beyond a full stomach.

Dr. Angela Odoms-Young, an assistant professor in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition and a Greater Chicago Food Depository board member, has studied the effects of hunger on children.

“Children need healthy food and a healthy diet for normal growth and development,” she said. “Kids who are food insecure often see poor cognitive development.”

A lack of consistent nutrition can cause significant issues for children, such as behavioral problems and reduced academic performance, Angela said.

“We must invest in children’s health early in their lives,” she said. “Good nutrition is associated with positive academic performance and overall better outcomes in kids.”

For children, achieving those results starts at breakfast. But, many children don’t eat breakfast before coming to school, which is why the Food Depository advocates for the expansion of school breakfast.

“Children who eat breakfast have a better dietary quality and there’s also evidence to suggest that breakfast increases cognitive performance throughout the day,” Angela said.

For food insecure children, after school and summer meals at home are not guaranteed. Programs such as the Food Depository’s Kids Cafe make sure children have the food they need after classes are over.

“After-school meals contribute to the overall nutritional adequacy of what kids eat in a day,” Angela said. “They also help families with food stability. They’re a consistent source of support, which helps offset other negative issues children might be experiencing at home.”

Children’s meal programs are federally funded by Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which is set to expire at the end of September. A reduction in funding could have dramatic effects on children’s health, Angela said.

“These programs have helped alleviate child poverty and food insecurity,” she said. “They help fill a gap in society.”

Click here to receive updates on the Food Depository’s advocacy efforts and learn more ways to get involved.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Food Depository and partners launch summer meals program

A young girl enjoys her lunch at the summer meals kickoff event, held at Dunbar Park on June 24, 2015.
The start of summer for most children usually means seemingly endless days, sunshine and plenty of free time to relax and enjoy being a kid. Whether it’s spending a day at the beach, grilling out with family and friends, or anything in between, many children and families in Cook County don’t think about where their next meal will come from. But for many families, this concern is a familiar reality.

To launch Cook County's summer meals program, hundreds of children attended a kickoff event at Dunbar Park on June 24. The event was organized by the Chicago Summer Meals Working Group, which consists of the United States Department of Agriculture, Illinois State Board of Education, Greater Chicago Food Depository, No Kid Hungry Illinois, Chicago Park District, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Archdiocese of Chicago, Catholic Charities, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Schools.

"1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger," said Kate Maehr, Food Depository executive director and CEO. "Together, we can ensure children have enough food to eat."

The event connected parents and guardians with children's summer meal sites in their area. Children also received a free meal and enjoyed festive activities.

Children are at an increased risk of hunger during the summer, when many who receive free or reduced-price school lunches lose an important source of food. Last year, only 14 percent of eligible Illinois children received free summer meals. In order to respond to the need facing these children, the Food Depository plans to operate nearly 300 summer meal sites and distribute more than 400,000 nutritious meals to children.

To find a summer meals site near you, visit, call 1-800-359-2163 or text “FOODIL” to 877877.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'It's a good thing for the community'

AmeriCorps intern Lorianna Anderson distributes a fresh meal from the Lunch Bus to a child in south suburban Lansing, Ill.
For many schoolchildren, lunch and recess are often the highlights of the day, where they can enjoy their lunches, visit with their friends, and run around outside before returning to the classroom.

But what happens when the school year ends and most children stop receiving school lunches?

In far south suburban communities like Riverdale, Lansing and Calumet City, the answer to that question is sobering.

“The Lunch Bus is a good thing for this community, especially for Riverdale,” said Deasayn Dodd, a summer camp counselor with the park district in Riverdale, Illinois.

With a child poverty rate of 32.5 percent in Riverdale alone, programs like the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus are essential to addressing the issue of food insecurity in the community. The Lunch Bus program runs three routes throughout Cook County, distributing fresh, pre-packaged lunches at 21 sites per day.

In nearby Calumet City, the situation is not much different. As the Lunch Bus pulls into Downey Park just past 11 a.m., several children are already eagerly waiting near the covered pavilion, anxious for their lunches. Twelve year-old Tramayne is one of those children.

“I really like it. It’s free, healthy and delicious!” said Tramayne.

With 1 in 5 children throughout Cook County facing food insecurity, situations like Tramayne’s are common. Because schools are closed for summer break, most children who normally receive free or reduced-price school lunches during the year no longer do. To address this issue, programs like the Lunch Bus ensure that children like Tramayne have continuous access to healthy meals, giving them more time to be kids and enjoy every moment of the summer.

The Food Depository is aiming to serve more than 400,000 healthy meals at 250 meal sites this summer through its children's programs, including the Lunch Bus.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Chicago food pantry continues march against hunger

Corwin Marbly, Sr. supervises the setup of the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry.
Standing tall and smiling at 90 years old, Corwin Marbly has seen a lot of change in his lifetime. However, there is one thing that Corwin has not seen change in his many years: the need for food assistance in his community.

A longtime resident of Chicago’s Near North Side, Corwin has been active in the fight against hunger for more than 30 years, coordinating the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry and participating in every Hunger Walk since the event first began in 1986.

The Hunger Walk is an annual 5K along the lakefront that benefits local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. The funds agencies raise at the Hunger Walk help them operate throughout the year. Corwin and the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry rely on their fundraising efforts from the Hunger Walk to serve a changing need in the community.

“Hunger Walk was a lifesaver. The money we raised helped us get through the year,” Corwin recalled about his food pantry’s annual attendance at the event.

Corwin helped to establish the food pantry in 1973, and he continues to run the program every week after more than 40 years.

“Within six months [of opening], we had people coming in like crazy,” Corwin recalled while supervising the food pantry setup early one Tuesday morning.

Despite the drastic change throughout the Near North Side in recent years, the St. Matthew Child Advocate food pantry continues to serve a high level of need in the community today, serving approximately 215 families per month. The food insecurity rate in the neighborhood is nearly 15 percent, which means that 15 percent of residents do not know when or from where their next meal will come.

“This church here is a symbol to the people in need,” Corwin said when asked how the food pantry continues to provide a vital service to local residents each week.

Even in retirement, Corwin remains passionate and determined to end hunger in his community. This motivation is why he and a team of volunteers from St. Matthew Child Advocate still participate in Hunger Walk every year and continue to operate their food pantry every Tuesday morning.

Register for the Hunger Walk at

Friday, June 5, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'There's a real need here'

Children eat a meal at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in Evanston.
On a quiet, tree-lined street in Evanston, children laughed and played on a swing set in front of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. The afternoon summer sun warmed the air as kids zoomed down slides and frolicked in the grass.

Inside the center, a meal was being prepared for the children. If it weren’t for that meal, many might not be eating dinner at home.

“You can’t even imagine how much these kids need this,” said Martin Mancere, the program coordinator. He was busy putting sandwiches, sweet potatoes and cartons of milk on trays as the kids came in from the playground.

“A lot of these kids don’t go home to quality, nutritious food like we provide them,” Martin said.

The community center is one of three meal programs sponsored by the City of Evanston and reimbursed through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Students can enroll in the program, but drop-ins are also welcome. The center serves approximately 50 children per day.

“There’s a real need here,” said Betsy Jenkins, the center director. “There’s poverty all over, including in Evanston, and kids need the food.”

The City of Evanston is one of many CACFP sponsors throughout Cook County. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is also a sponsor of CACFP sites, called Kids Cafes.

During the summer, the site serves breakfast as part of the national Summer Food Service Program, which is intended to fill the gap for food insecure children who are no longer receiving free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school.

“If we can give these kids something substantial to help fill their stomachs, we are doing our job,” Betsy said.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'They don't get breakfast at home'

Students eat breakfast at Caroline Sibley Elementary School in Calumet City. The school serves meals to approximately 650 students each day.

Three years ago, staff at Caroline Sibley Elementary School in Calumet City instituted the National School Breakfast Program after arriving at a disheartening realization.

“Our kids are hungry.”

1 in 3 children in Calumet City is at risk of hunger. Shelly Davis-Jones, the superintendent of District 149, knows that reality perhaps better than anyone.

“I do a lot of home visits to talk to parents and check in on kids,” she said. “Our kids aren’t eating. Food is scarce. I’ve seen refrigerators with nothing in them.”

In many households, healthy options are limited.

“These kids rely on meals at school,” Shelly said.

The school breakfast program offers breakfast before school and breakfast in the classroom. The program serves approximately 650 students per day, or 81 percent of the school’s eligible students, which is well over the state’s target participation rate of 70 percent.

“For many of these students, breakfast on a Monday is the first substantial meal that these children are getting in two days,” Shelly said. “They look forward to coming in because they don’t get breakfast at home.”

The benefits of breakfast before school are easy to see, especially for the teachers who are with the students all day.

“Before we had breakfast in the classroom, you’d have kids coming in each morning crying or putting their heads down because their stomach hurt,” said Suzette Ojermark, a third-grade teacher at the school. “With breakfast here, they’re getting something they wouldn’t normally get.”

But, it’s not just teachers that are speaking up about the importance of breakfast. When the school made the transition to the program three years ago, it was the students who helped lead the charge, giving a presentation about the importance of the program to the district’s Board of Education.

Their message was simple, according to Shelly.

“Breakfast is so important to getting the brain going,” she said. “How can you focus on an empty stomach?”

Read more stories about the importance of children’s programs at

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Food Depository prepares response to summer hunger

The Lunch Bus distributes meals to children during the summer at 21 stops throughout Cook County. The program is just one way the Food Depository is addressing summer hunger.

For children, hunger does not end during the summer.

Amanda Yepez is the Kids Cafe coordinator at Casa Juan Diego, a Greater Chicago Food Depository program in Pilsen. During the school year, her site serves meals to more than 50 children. During the summer, that number practically doubles.

“We want to make sure that children have a meal and a place to go,” Amanda said. “We know there’s a need here. Many of these families are struggling to survive.”

Ricardo Marines, Casa Juan Diego’s assistant director, knows that many children struggle to access food when school is out.

“Summer isn’t fun and games for all children. Some wake up hungry without a meal at school,” he said.

During the school year, many children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school. But in the summer, only 14 percent of eligible children in Illinois utilize free meals.

This summer, the Food Depository will sponsor approximately 300 summer meal sites, including Kids Cafes, the Lunch Bus and the Department of Family and Support Service’s Summer Nutrition Program. Through those programs, the Food Depository aims to distribute more than 400,000 meals this summer.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The 1 in 5: A meal, homework and a puppet show

Kids Cafes distribute healthy meals to children, such as this whole wheat pasta salad, fruit cup and milk at the Lakeview YMCA.

On a recent Thursday, an impromptu puppet show was breaking out at the Lakeview YMCA in Chicago. The stage – a sheet of cardboard with a square cut out of the middle – was set up on two chairs. A group of children anxiously huddled around the front, playfully giggling and waiting for the show to begin. Two more crouched behind the cardboard, controlling the puppets – paper cut outs on popsicle sticks. The stick figures appeared, and the children cheered with delight.

This scene is not uncommon at the Lakeview YMCA. Children play basketball, do homework and socialize – the program coordinators know it’s important for them to work and play together. But just as important is the meal that the Lakeview YMCA – a Greater Chicago Food Depository Kids Cafe site – provides after school.

“I know we have families who rely on these meals,” said Lily Smith Richards, the Lakeview YMCA’s Youth and Family Manager.

The site serves meals to approximately 40 children per day, ages 5 to 13. Most families with children enrolled in the program include at least one parent who is working, Lilly said.

“I know that the Kids Cafe is important to a lot of these families,” she said.

Lily knows one of the most crucial aspects of the program is access to healthy food, which she sees the direct benefits of.

“The quality of food they get is important,” she said. “I can see that the kids’ mental capacity is a lot better after they’ve eaten. They’re more ready to do homework and concentrate.”

Programs like the Kids Cafe are part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which is funded by the federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which is slated to expire in September. With 1 in 5 children at risk of hunger in Cook County, the Act’s funding for these programs must be protected. For more stories about the impact of children’s programs, visit

'We lifted our voices and lawmakers were listening'

Advocates gather in front of the Illinois State Capitol on Lobby Day in Springfield.
The morning sun glinted off the Illinois State Capitol dome in Springfield as a growing sea of anti-hunger advocates in blue shirts gathered below. Busload after busload, their numbers swelled to more than 250. Packed beneath the bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln on the Capitol’s steps, a chant began.

“End hunger now!”

That was the start of Lobby Day, an annual event that gathers advocates from the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations from across Illinois in Springfield to discuss the issue of hunger with lawmakers.

This year, advocates encouraged legislators to improve children’s access to School Breakfast by co-sponsoring and supporting the 2015 School Breakfast resolution, which promotes alternative breakfast models. They also asked lawmakers to support SB 1847, which would increase SNAP eligibility by raising income limits. And, advocates suggested elected officials promote summer meals and visit a child nutrition site.

“The energy was great at Hunger Summit and Lobby Day,” said Sarah Greenberg, the program and community outreach manager at a Food Depository member agency in Uptown. “I felt like we lifted our voices and lawmakers were listening.”

Scott Best, the coordinator at Common Pantry in the North Center neighborhood, called the conference "motivating and inspiring."

"Any time we can make a big splash with a large group of people, I feel like that will stick in lawmakers' heads. It will make the issue more memorable for them," he said.

In total, the group met with more than 90 lawmakers in less than two hours. In addition to the Hunger Summit and Lobby Day, Food Depository advocates annually attend the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

Check out photos from the trips to Springfield and Washington, D.C., learn more about the Food Depository's advocacy agenda and watch a video recap of the trips at

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Regular Tyson chicken donation provides critical source of protein

Protein is a core item that the Greater Chicago Food Depository offers to its member agencies. But, because of increasing prices, it is one of the more difficult items for the Food Depository to obtain. However, a generous recurring donation from Tyson Foods, Inc. has made chicken more available to our network that serves hungry men, women and children in our community.

Since December 2012, Tyson has donated more than 682,000 pounds of chicken leg quarters to the Food Depository. The chicken, which is distributed at children’s programs in addition to pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, is an important part of the Food Depository’s response to hunger.

“For the 1 in 6 people in Cook County turning to the Food Depository’s network each year, chicken is often a luxury that families cannot afford,” said Gerry Maguire, Food Depository vice president of supply chain. “Tyson’s donations ensure that food insecure families will have access to more high-quality protein throughout our community.”

“Tyson is extremely proud of the continued impact our donations make for struggling households served by the Greater Chicago Food Depository,” said Greg Lancelot, VP Sales and Marketing Tyson Foods McDonald’s Business Unit. “As a food company, we believe that nobody should go hungry and that is why we are committed to the fight against hunger in our communities.”

Since the donations began, more than 100 member agencies have received the chicken at no cost. One such agency, a women’s shelter Humboldt Park, recently received eight cases of the product.

“We have about 25 women at the shelter at any given time,” said Ethel Johnson, a volunteer at Leslie’s Place. “Chicken is a nutritious product and our residents really enjoy it.”

Leslie’s Place serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to residents every day, so a variety of protein is important.

“We use the chicken in meals at least once a day,” Ethel said. “We really need it.”

In addition to recurring chicken donations, Tyson generously contributed $100,000 to the Food Depository’s hunger relief initiatives this year and is a Premier Sponsor of the 30th Annual Hunger Walk on Saturday, June 20.
For more information about food industry donations, visit

Friday, April 10, 2015

The 1 in 5: Meeting the need year-round

A child receives lunch at Casa Juan Diego in Pilsen.
For the Kids Cafe at Casa Juan Diego in Pilsen, there is no spring break.

Even when Chicago Public Schools close for a week in April, the Greater Chicago Food Depository program stays open. It’s indicative of the need among children in the community.

“We want to make sure that children have a meal and a place to go,” said Amanda Yepez, the Kids Cafe coordinator. “We know there’s a need here. Many of these families are struggling to survive.”

During the school year, the Kids Cafe serves meals to approximately 50 children each day. Many of the children in Pilsen come from families in which both parents work, but healthy food is still difficult to afford.

“We’re able to provide these children with a healthy, well-balanced meal,” Amanda said. “Families are having trouble paying bills and rent and everything and can’t afford that for their children.”

Casa Juan Diego doesn’t just stay open during spring break. When school ends in June, they become a summer meal site.

“I’d say the need is almost greater during the summer,” said Ricardo Marines, Casa Juan Diego’s assistant director.

This summer, Ricardo expects to serve nearly 100 children per day at the Kids Cafe.

“Most of the time, kids come to our center during the summer without having breakfast or lunch,” he said.

Casa Juan Diego is just one of many children’s meal sites sponsored by the Food Depository during the summer. Programs like Kids Cafes and the Lunch Bus, which delivers meals to children at 21 sites per day, help bridge the gap for children who were receiving free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school during the year but no longer have access to those meals.

For Ricardo, the philosophy is simple.

“Whether it’s winter, spring or summer, we want to make sure we have a place – and a meal – for these children.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

The 1 in 5: Eating breakfast, dancing, living healthy

A student receives breakfast at Beidler Elementary School.
Every Friday, dance music reverberates through the halls of Beidler Elementary School in Chicago’s East Garfield Park community.

“Welcome to Fitness Friday!” a voice booms over the PA system, between tracks. For 10 minutes, students and teachers dance up and down the halls, waving their arms and singing along to the music.

Fitness Friday may seem like pure fun, but for Principal Charles Anderson, the activity is part of a larger commitment to healthy living.

“The students really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a good way to start Fridays, by getting everyone up and moving.”

Another aspect of that commitment to health is a focus on nutrition. To that end, Beidler is part of the National School Breakfast Program, serving meals to nearly 330 students each day.

“You just can’t teach kids if they’re hungry. They can’t focus,” Principal Anderson said.

Breakfast is especially important in East Garfield Park, where the child poverty rate is a stunning 55 percent.

“Many of these students wouldn’t be getting breakfast if they didn’t get it here,” he said.

This is the school’s fourth year as part of the National School Breakfast Program.

“Our scores continue to rise and I think you can attribute that in part to our activities and our breakfast initiative,” he said.

Beidler’s breakfast program encourages a family atmosphere, as students gather in the school’s cafeteria before school to socialize and eat.

“We try to create a culture by making sure kids are eating a healthy breakfast, exercising and having fun,” Principal Anderson said.

According to the most recent school breakfast data, more than 473,000 free and reduced-price breakfasts were served at schools in East Garfield Park in 2013, including approximately 59,000 at Beidler Elementary.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The 1 in 5: A mother's story

Tanya Lee met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to share her WIC success story.

For Tanya Lee, the WIC program was nothing short of life-changing: it helped her break her cycle of poverty.

Tanya grew up in a single-parent household after her father left her mother. Without a steady income, the family ended up living in government subsidized housing.

“It wasn’t a great environment to grow up in,” Tanya said.

When she was 15, Tanya became pregnant with her son, DeAngelo. She was working a part-time job, but was still struggling to make ends meet. Unsure how she was going to feed her son, she turned to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

“The WIC program really allowed me to get on my feet,” she said.

WIC provides nutrition education, counseling and food from pregnancy until the child is five.

“As a young mom who didn’t know a lot about nutrition, the WIC program trained me,” Tanya said.

In addition to being a critical source of nutritious food for her young son – food that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford – the WIC program enabled Tanya to pursue a future she didn’t think was reachable.

“The WIC program allowed me to go to school, to dream bigger,” she said.

Tanya finished high school, and because WIC helped with her grocery budget, she was able to enroll in college.

“My focus was always to feed my kids, but if I didn’t have WIC my education wouldn’t have been as much of a priority,” she said.

Tanya graduated with a double major in social work and criminal justice. She went on to get her master’s degree in 2009. Now, she is a successful non-profit consultant, runs a food pantry, and hopes to open her own social service organization.

She knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without the WIC program’s assistance nearly 30 years ago.

“If the WIC program didn’t exist, I’d probably be in a dead-end job right now. But that’s not the case. The WIC program opened the door for me,” Tanya said.

Tanya recently joined nearly 30 Greater Chicago Food Depository advocates in Washington, D.C. for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, where she told her story to lawmakers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The 1 in 5: Getting a great start

A student at Hillside School eats breakfast in the classroom.
Instead of hanging out with their friends before school every morning, Hillside School 8th-graders Julian and Davarion make sure that their fellow students start their day off right – with breakfast.
They help sort school breakfasts and bring them to each classroom, where the teachers then distribute the meal to students.

“If you have breakfast, your mind is much more active and aware. It really gets you through the day,” Julian said.

Hillside School is in its first year participating in the National School Breakfast Program, which provides schools with meal reimbursements as long as they meet certain need requirements. At Hillside, 78 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Assistant Principal Jennifer McGuire knows the need is significant.

“These kids have a lot to worry about,” Jennifer said. “But at least they don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to eat breakfast.”

Generally, breakfasts include cereal, fruit, juice and milk. Nearly 400 children each day eat breakfast at Hillside.

“Eating breakfast is an important part of the day,” she said. “We want to get students off to a great start, and part of that is making sure they’re getting the nutrition they need.”

Davarion, an 8th-grader at Hillside, helps deliver breakfasts to different classrooms every morning.
For Davarion, eating breakfast is a no-brainer.

“You’d be hungry during the day if you didn’t eat breakfast,” he said.

In 2013, there were 449,000 Illinois students who were eligible for school breakfast but did not receive it. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is a partner in the Rise & Shine Illinois campaign to increase awareness of the benefits of school breakfast and encourage participation in the program.

Hillside School Principal Steve Bogren knows that the breakfast and lunch programs are a crucial line of defense against hunger.

“We know that the students will get a breakfast and lunch while they’re here,” he said. “For some of these kids, if they’re not getting those meals here, they’re not getting them at all.”

February 23 – 27, 2015 is Illinois Breakfast Week. Learn more and pledge your support at

Friday, February 13, 2015

The 1 in 5: Supporting new life

Anayeli and her six-month-old daughter Yuritzy receive assistance at the WIC site in Albany Park.
From the time a child is conceived through its early life, nutrition – for the baby and the mother – is critically important. For those struggling with hunger, accessing the food needed to help ensure a child grows up healthy can be a challenge.

But it doesn’t have to be, and that’s where WIC plays a vital role.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is funded by the federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which also funds other children’s programs. WIC provides vouchers for healthy food, nutrition education, nutrition counseling and more for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, have had a baby in the past six months, or have a child younger than five years old.

In Illinois, there are more than 269,000 women enrolled in the program.

“There’s no other system in place to provide this community-based nutrition and health support. WIC really is the only walk-in public health system at the street level,” said Margaret Saunders, the WIC/Family Case Management Director for the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County – the largest operator of WIC sites in the state.

To be eligible for the program, families must meet income guidelines which equate to approximately 185 percent of the poverty level.

“Many of our clients don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because they’re expensive,” said Stefanie Balvanz, a site supervisor and registered dietitian at a CEDA WIC site in Albany Park. “The vouchers parents receive make those products accessible.”

That’s the case for 25-year-old Anayeli, who had a baby six months ago. She started receiving WIC services during the pregnancy.

“The nutritionists taught me about how I should be eating during the pregnancy, and which vegetables I should give my baby,” she said.

She also receives food vouchers, which enable her to purchase fresh produce, which she otherwise would not be able to afford.

“If WIC wasn’t here, it would be hard for me. It’s helped us a lot.”

Fifty-one percent of all children born in the United States receive WIC support at some point in their first few years of life.

“Our goal is to make sure children get the nutrition they need so they’re school-ready,” Margaret said. “And, we want to give parents the tools they need to be confident and healthy when raising those children.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fighting hunger during winter weather

Every day, the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s fleet of 40 vehicles is on the road, delivering food to our hungry neighbors. And, the challenges of a Chicago winter strengthen our resolve.

“Our drivers make sure that food gets where it needs to be, regardless of the weather,” said Joe Rodriguez, the Food Depository’s Transportation Director.

Winter weather poses unique challenges for the Food Depository’s transportation team, which consists of staff and numerous dedicated volunteers. One of the biggest concerns becomes making sure member agencies are still accessible for deliveries.

“We often make food deliveries in alleys, or using sidewalks,” Joe said. “But in a storm, those areas might not be plowed right away, so our drivers bring shovels and help the agencies clear out the snow so they can receive the food.”

Safety is a top priority year-round for the Food Depository’s transportation team, but during the winter months, it becomes especially important.

“The transportation team meets at six every morning, so when it’s snowing we’re able to communicate what the best routes are going to be before we leave the warehouse and keep everyone updated on road conditions,” Joe said.

For Joe and his team, the bottom line is simple: the need doesn’t stop during the winter, so neither can they.

“No matter if it’s snowing, raining, hot or cold, we’re making sure to get food out into the community, because people are counting on us,” he said.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The 1 in 5: 'These kids are hungry'

Students at Jane Addams Elementary School receive cold and hot breakfasts.

By 8:40 a.m., the usual sounds of children chattering before school in Carla Modugno’s kindergarten class are replaced with the sounds of children eating. This daily transition signals a critical part of the school day: breakfast.

Students at Jane Addams Elementary School in Melrose Park receive breakfast in the classroom – a federally funded program that is supported statewide by Illinois No Kid Hungry and the Illinois State Board of Education.

“There are a lot of kids in our district who are hungry,” said Marisa Raymond, District 89’s Food Service Coordinator. “It’s really heartbreaking to see.”

That’s why the district offers the program, which is considered an alternative service model. Since implementing breakfast in the classroom three years ago, the school consistently sees between 80 and 90 percent student breakfast participation. That’s up from 30 percent participation when Jane Addams was offering the traditional breakfast before school.

Statewide, alternative service models have been shown to increase participation in breakfast programs. But, there’s still work to be done, as there were 449,000 children who were eligible for school breakfasts in 2013 that did not receive them.

“I know that when kids have food in their system, they are more energized, engaged and alert,” Carla said.

Students get to their classrooms by 8:35 a.m., and have 20 minutes to eat before the bell rings and the instructional day begins at 8:55 a.m. Nutritious hot and cold meals, such as cereal or breakfast sandwiches, are served.

“There’s a great need for breakfast in the morning here,” said Jane Addams Principal Frank Mikl. 

“Not only does breakfast in the classroom give kids access to a nutritious meal, it also increases academic performance and gets students into school on time – because they don’t want to miss the meal.”

The child poverty rate in Melrose Park is 20 percent. Many of the children come from families with parents who are working and barely making enough money to afford food. Others struggle more, Marisa said.

“Last year, I saw a little girl going around the lunch room collecting fruit cups from the kids who weren't eating them because she was hungry. That’s why we do school breakfast,” Marisa said.

On Sept. 30, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization will expire, putting children’s meal programs – like school breakfast – at risk. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is a statewide partner in the Rise and Shine Illinois campaign, which aims to increase participation in Illinois school breakfast. 

Read more stories about the impact of children’s programs at

Monday, January 19, 2015

1 City, 1 Food Drive collects 1.3 million meals

The Union Station food drive collected nearly 15,000 pounds of food in less than 24 hours.

Throughout November and December, the Food Depository’s 1 City, 1 Food Drive campaign united more than 500 food drives with 250 public donation locations across Cook County. This year’s campaign collected more than 1.3 million meals for hungry men, women and children in our community.

Some of the highlights from this year’s campaign included the Union Station Food Drive, which collected more than 14,800 pounds of food in less than 24 hours. Commuters were given food drive bags and asked to return them full of shelf-stable groceries the following morning. Another highlight was the food drive celebration at the Merchandise Mart in late November, which brought together Food Depository supporters, volunteers, staff and donors to proclaim to Chicago that no one should go hungry.

In addition to physical food drives, virtual food drives were an important part of the 1 City, 1 Food Drive effort. The top virtual drive was Morningstar, which collected more than $76,000, the equivalent of 228,377 meals. Overall, there were nearly 400 virtual food drives throughout November and December, which collected a total of $216,000.

Thank you to everyone who volunteered, participated in a food drive, or started a food drive this holiday season. You made a lasting impact on hunger in our community. And, thank you to our key food drive partners, including the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, Boy Scouts of America Chicago Area Council, Chicago Bulls, City of Chicago, Fox Chicago, InterPark, ISSA Family Foundation and Life Time Fitness Turkey Day 5K.

Food drives are critical during the holidays, but are needed year-round. Start one now.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The 1 in 5: A guaranteed meal

A group of boys at the Falcon Park Kids Cafe hang out after finishing their meal.

Every day after school around 3 o’clock, a bus full of children arrives at the Falcon Park Recreation Center in Palatine for the Kids Cafe. The students pour out, laughing and smiling, toting backpacks full of homework. They are a mix of first through sixth graders, bundled in brightly colored hats, coats and scarves. Despite their differences in age, they have one thing in common: they are all at risk of hunger.

“The resources for healthy, affordable food just don’t exist in this area,” said Courtney Renwick, the program coordinator for the Buehler YMCA’s Kids Cafe at Falcon Park.

Even though it is surrounded by an affluent suburban community, the Kids Cafe – a Greater Chicago Food Depository program – fills a significant need, as one in seven children in Palatine lives in poverty.

“There’s a huge disparity between residents in Palatine,” Courtney said. “Some are well off, but there is also a population that is really struggling.”

The Kids Cafe serves a meal to approximately 40 children each day. On a recent Wednesday, students received a tuna sandwich, fruit, raisins and milk. Some of the children won’t eat again until breakfast at school the following morning.

“I have to fight for food when I go home,” said 12-year-old Ulysses. “I have four sisters and they eat first.”

For Courtney, Ulysses’ situation is neither surprising nor unique.

“There are a lot of basic necessities that aren’t being met in this community,” she said. “You can just tell by how these kids eat the meals. They eat like there’s no tomorrow.”

The program also focuses on homework help.

“Getting meals goes hand-in-hand with good academic performance,” Courtney said.

Around 5 o’clock, a bus picks up the children to take them home. Some will go home to find that there is not a meal waiting for them.

“My favorite fruit is bananas,” Ulysses said. “But we don’t get those at home.”

Despite the inconsistency at home, Ulysses and the rest of the children can count on returning to the Kids Cafe tomorrow, with the guarantee of another meal.

“When they’re here we know they’re getting at least one nutritious meal, and that’s what’s important,” she said.

Kids Cafes are just one of the programs funded by the Child Nutrition Reauthorization – a federal law that supports children’s programs. The law is set to expire on Sep. 30, 2015.

To learn how to get involved in the Food Depository’s advocacy efforts, visit