|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.
To learn how to get involved in the Food Depository’s advocacy efforts, visit chicagosfoodbank.org/advocacy.
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.