Friday, August 26, 2016

31 years of fighting hunger: Food Depository's longest-tenured employee to retire

Thank you Gloria for your 31 years of service to hungry men, women and children in our community.
When Gloria Scott started working full-time at the Greater Chicago Food Depository in 1985, the organization was only six years old. It distributed 19.3 million pounds of food that year, and had just settled into the 91,000 square foot warehouse at 4501 S. Tripp Avenue.

Thirty-one years later, Gloria will say goodbye to a much larger Food Depository, as she begins her retirement.

“This has been beyond just a job,” she said. “Working at the Food Depository has meant so much to me. I’ve learned so much from my coworkers and from the agencies. We’ve become a family.”

As impressive as her 31-year tenure is, Gloria has actually been with the organization for 34 years. She volunteered in the warehouse sorting food and then as an order checker for three years before being hired to work in inventory control.

"Gloria's warmth, optimism and unwavering dedication to our mission over the past three decades is incredibly inspiring," said Kate Maehr, Food Depository executive director and CEO. "She's made a lasting impact on hunger in our community, and for that we are truly grateful."

In her current role, Gloria processes agency food orders, responds to agency questions and makes sure agency food pickups run smoothly. She’s always had a passion for helping out.

“Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always cared for this type of work,” she said. “I just love reaching out in whatever way I can. I always want to be able to help people.”

Her dedication to fighting hunger extends beyond the workplace. In her spare time, she runs a food pantry in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, which she will continue to manage in retirement.

“There’s a greater need now than ever before,” she said. “I see it at my pantry and at work. More and more people are turning to agencies for help.”

Eventually, she’ll be moving to Michigan to be closer to her daughter. But until she does, she’s looking forward to expanding the services of her pantry. She’d like to offer clients exercise tips and teach them how to crochet.

Gloria, second from left, looks on as former Food Depository executive director Mike Mulqueen talks to staff at a meeting in the early 1990's.
Looking back, Gloria never expected to be in one place so long.

“During those years I was just volunteering at the Food Depository, I never dreamed I’d work here - let alone this long. Now that I’ve been through it, it was definitely worth the stay,” she says, laughing.

And after 31 years, she’s retiring with the same passion she had for the cause in 1985.

“It feels great to be in one job with a mission and to be able to accomplish that every day,” she said. “If I helped even one person, I know my time at the Food Depository was worth it.”

Friday, August 19, 2016

School breakfast expands to 175,000 Illinois students

The effective "Breakfast After the Bell" model for school breakfast programs will expand to more than 175,000 additional children in Illinois thanks to a bill that was signed into law today. SB 2393 unanimously passed the Illinois House and Senate this spring.

With one in five children in Illinois at risk of hunger, there is a substantial need for school breakfast. Children who eat breakfast are better able to learn and focus. The state currently ranks 42nd out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in providing breakfast to children at school.

Thanks to the new law, breakfast will be an official part of the school day in low-income schools, guaranteeing that every student has access to the healthy food they need to learn. Incorporating breakfast into the school day removes barriers that children face, such as transportation challenges and the stigma associated with receiving free and reduced-price meals. The new requirement takes effect on January 1, 2017.

“Illinois children have such incredible potential, but hunger stifles that potential. In order to grow up healthy and excel in the classroom, children need to eat breakfast,” said Kate Maehr, co-chair of the Illinois Commission to End Hunger and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “This new law makes breakfast accessible to more kids in our state and provides them the nourishment they need to succeed.”

Starting the day with a nutritious breakfast makes a measurable impact on children's ability to learn: for example, kids who eat breakfast score 17% higher on standardized math tests, according to research from Feeding America.

“Monday mornings can be hard for some children, especially if they start the day hungry after a weekend of inconsistent food sources. This new legislation will go a long way in providing a nourishing breakfast for the children of Illinois,” said Tom Browning, co-chair of the Illinois No Kid Hungry Working Group and Director, Childhood Nutrition & Wellness at Illinois Action for Children.

A statewide coalition of organizations advocated for the Breakfast After the Bell legislation, including Bread for the World, COFI, Catholic Charities, Central Illinois Foodbank, Eastern Illinois Foodbank, EverThrive Illinois, Feeding America, Feeding Illinois, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Heartland Alliance, Hope Response Coalition, Illinois Action for Children, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Illinois Migrant Council, Illinois Public Health Institute, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, Northern Illinois Food Bank, the Ounce of Prevention, River Bend Foodbank, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, St. Louis Area Foodbank , Tri-State Food Bank, Voices for Illinois Children and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Uniting Fresh Food and Clinical Care: FRESH Truck at Oak Forest Health Center

The latest addition to the partnership between Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) and the Greater Chicago Food Depository is the FRESH Truck mobile produce distribution at Oak Forest Health Center. On Thursday morning, patients received food vouchers from their doctors for a visit to the FRESH Truck. As they walked through the truck, volunteers provided assistance with selecting a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including melons, celery, potatoes, onions, and cabbage. More than 125 clients took home produce.

Doctors and patients agree that this nutritious, accessible food can lead to better health outcomes for people with chronic diseases. Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezike sees many patients with lifestyle-related conditions like diabetes and hypertension in his practice at Oak Forest Health Center. “Many of the patients don’t have the option to find healthy, good quality food,” he says. “The program will benefit patients not only by giving them better food, but also by encouraging them to keep their appointments with our clinic.”

As part of the partnership between the Food Depository and CCHHS, Dr. Ezike and his colleagues now screen their patients for food insecurity. Most patients have been receptive, he says: many mention related challenges, such as lack of access to transportation. Bringing the FRESH Truck to a convenient site like the health center addresses some of these barriers. The Oak Forest Health Center also informs patients who are food insecure about nearby food pantries available to them.

Donnel Jones with produce from the FRESH Truck
One patient, Donnel Jones, walked off the FRESH Truck with three bags of vegetables. “It came in handy,” he says. He learned about the FRESH Truck when he received greens and kale from the Oak Forest Health Center’s community garden recently, along with a voucher for the upcoming FRESH Truck distribution. “I love cooking – I learned that from my mom,” he recalls. Donnel would love to include more fresh produce in his diet, but it can be a challenge to afford these items. His SNAP benefits have been reduced by more than half, and the $80 in assistance he receives each month doesn’t go far at a grocery store. Being able to prepare fresh greens and vegetables makes a substantial difference in his diet.

Dr. John Jay Shannon, CEO of Cook County Health and Hospitals System, was at Oak Forest to see the FRESH Truck in action. He anticipates a broader impact for the culture of the health center: “It goes beyond material clinical care. It gets clinicians thinking about the community that we serve,” Dr. Shannon said. He notes that “there’s been a marked suburbanization of poverty.” The partnership between CCHHS and the Food Depository represents a key opportunity to address food insecurity throughout the county while educating both patients and their doctors about the impact of healthy food.