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