Food Depository distributes nearly 24 million pounds of produce
On a sunny, cool Thursday morning, 64-year-old Aida waited in line to receive fresh fruit and vegetables at a Producemobile distribution in West Town. It was her second time at the Producemobile.
“I couldn’t possibly afford fresh vegetables and fruit like I can get here,” she said. “And this type of food is essential for good health.”
Aida receives a small social security check which is barely enough to pay rent, utilities and other bills. At the end of the month, affording food especially fruit and vegetables can be difficult, which is why the Producemobile is beneficial.
Aida isn’t alone. People started lining up for the West Town Producemobile at 5 a.m.
“This is a good thing for the community,” said Juan Clas, the program’s on-site coordinator.
In fiscal year 2014-2015, the Greater Chicago Food Depository operated nearly 60 Producemobile sites each month in Cook County. Overall, the Food Depository distributed 23.7 million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables. Produce accounted for 35 percent of all food distribution.
In addition to the Producemobile, the Food Depository distributes millions of pounds of produce through its network of pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.
“This helps my family a lot,” said Ruth Flores, while holding her young daughter at a food pantry in Melrose Park.
Ruth was waiting to receive fresh produce, in addition to shelf-stable groceries. She is currently unemployed and her husband’s income is not enough to support her family.
“Produce wouldn’t be an option if we didn’t get it here,” she said.
Food Depository doubles summer hunger response
In Cook County, nearly 255,000 children 1 in 5 are at risk of hunger. During the summer, that risk increases. When classes aren’t in session, many children who receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school no longer access those meals.
In order to help fill this gap during summer 2015, the Food Depository distributed more than 600,000 meals to children more than double last year’s effort through approximately 260 summer meals sites, including the Lunch Bus.
“My grandchildren really enjoy the vegetables and the chicken. I love the fact that it’s a healthy lunch,” said Luz Amaya, who brought her two grandchildren to a Lunch Bus stop in Lansing throughout the summer. “That’s really important and it’s a big help.”
The Lunch Bus made 21 stops each weekday on three different routes in the city of Chicago and south suburbs. On average, it served 1,000 nutritious meals per day.
In addition to the Lunch Bus, the Food Depository launched a summer meals program in partnership with the Chicago Public Library which offered shelf-stable meals to children at five library branches across the city.
“When kids are hungry, they can’t learn as well,” said Maggie Clemons, the branch manager at the Back of the Yards Library, which participated in the meal program this summer. “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 Clark, the library meals program is an important source of food for his 4-year-old daughter, Emily.
“I’ll have to skip a meal sometimes, usually breakfast or lunch, but I really don’t want Emily to,” he said.
Hillery 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 can’t work, so their budget is tight.
“Emily seems to enjoy the program and it helps,” he said.
Hillery discovered the meals program because he saw a poster at the library. However in many areas, families in need aren’t aware of the programs available to them. In fact, only 14 percent of eligible children in Illinois utilize summer meals programs.
That’s why the Food Depository partnered with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) a nonprofit that encourages family-focused organizing and community building to raise awareness for summer meals programs in high-need communities. This summer, parent teams canvassed Cicero, Englewood and Lawndale, going door-to-door, handing out flyers and putting up posters to raise awareness for summer meals.
“We hope the people in the community will read the summer meals information and pass it along to a friend or family member,” said Charlene Campbell, a COFI organizer. “We know it makes a difference.”
Electronic client intake system increases efficiency, agency capacity
For many partner agencies in the Food Depository’s network, the process of checking clients in before receiving food went digital this year.
The Food Depository equipped 120 agencies with the computers, tablets and training required for an electronic intake system called FoodBank Manager. The program allows for faster and more efficient intake and will enable agencies to better serve clients.
In addition to capturing electronic signatures required by agencies that receive food from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), FoodBank Manager also provides a database that tracks client information including how many times they visit the pantry, and the size of their household.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Guirdina Bonner, a volunteer who runs client intake at the Chosen Tabernacle food pantry in Grand Boulevard. “It’s much better than paper and it’s faster for agencies and for the people we serve.”
For Pastor Sandra Gillespie, Chosen Tabernacle’s food pantry coordinator, moving to the electronic system made sense.
“Once everyone gets acclimated to the new system, it’s going to make intake really fast,” she said. “Plus, I’m very technology-minded, so I was like, ‘Let’s do this!’”
Another agency using FoodBank Manager is the Christian Life Center, a food pantry in Berwyn. Pantry coordinator Rachel Jumpa has been handling the program’s rollout since November.
“It’s definitely worth the time to learn because it streamlines intake,” she said.
But for Rachel, there’s an added benefit to the electronic system.
“Since it makes intake quicker, it frees up volunteers, so they can interact with the clients more. It’s not just about a number or a name, it’s about people,” she said.
The system will be implemented at the 285 agencies receiving USDA food in the Food Depository’s network within the next two years.
Veterans response expands with launch of Hines VA food pantry
Glenn, a 58-year-old United States Marines veteran, is struggling to make ends meet. He is on disability, receiving only $600 per month. Glenn doesn’t qualify for SNAP, so his budget is tight.
“Things are a little rough right now, I’m not going to lie,” he said.
Glenn served in the Marines from 1977-1979 and receives medical care at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, IL. In November 2014, the Food Depository opened a food pantry for veterans inside the hospital. Glenn recently visited the pantry for the third time.
“Right now this helps a lot,” he said. “After I pay for rent, the phone bill and my electricity, there’s not a lot left over.”
The pantry distributes fresh produce, shelf-stable food and other nutritious groceries to veterans every Thursday. Since opening, it has distributed more than 62,000 pounds of food.
The pantry at Hines VA is the second of its kind launched by the Food Depository. In November 2013, the Food Depository opened a veterans food pantry at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. The pantry was one of the country’s first food pantries for veterans inside a VA facility. During fiscal year 2014-2015, both VA food pantries combined to serve more than 30,000 individuals.
In addition to the VA food pantries, the Food Depository participated in Veteran Stand Downs in November 2014 and June 2015. These events offer homeless veterans food, clothing, medical exams and other services. The Food Depository provided a hot meal and shelf-stable bag of groceries to more than 1,400 veterans at the two events combined.
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 and more than 18,000 veterans live below the poverty line.
Children’s programs fight hunger during the school year
Mercedes Cruz looked on as her two daughters, 6-year-old MaKayla and 7-year-old Bianca, each happily peeled an orange at a Kids Cafe in the Little Village neighborhood. For the two children, it was just another day at the after school program. But Mercedes knew the importance of the oranges.
“I can’t afford to send them to school with fresh fruit, so it’s great that they’re getting it here,” she said. “It really helps with our budget.”
Mercedes works as a cashier at a local store. For the most part, she’s working 35-40 hours per week. But sometimes, when the store isn’t as busy, her hours decrease. A fluctuating paycheck makes it difficult to budget and afford food on a consistent basis.
“The kids getting food here is probably saving me $200 per week,” she said. “It would be tough to afford that so this helps a lot.”
Mercedes’ boyfriend works the overnight shift at the grocery store. Despite both individuals having jobs, it can still be a struggle to make ends meet.
“At the end of the week, there’s always a new bill that has to be paid,” Mercedes said. “It gets to be a lot.”
The program in Little Village is just one of more than 200 Kids Cafes the Food Depository partnered with during fiscal year 2014-2015. Overall, the Food Depository’s Kids Cafes distributed more than 766,300 meals to children throughout Cook County.
In addition to Kids Cafes, Healthy Kids Markets market-style food distributions in 15 Chicago Public Schools provided fresh fruit, vegetables and shelf-stable groceries to families with children at each school.
For Tiffany Andrews and her family, the Healthy Kids Market at Chavez Elementary School in the Back of the Yards neighborhood is an important resource.
“This helps us out a lot,” Tiffany said. “We only have one income right now, so it’s a big deal to get extra food. Plus, it’s easy for me because I’m here already dropping my daughter off.”
Tiffany’s husband works full-time in a nearby warehouse. She had a steady job as a receptionist since 2006, but recently became unemployed. She is actively looking for a job, but with only one income, providing food for her children can be difficult.
She receives green bell peppers, beets, oranges, onions and shelf-stable food like oatmeal and canned vegetables at the Market.
“Fruit is really pricey these days,” Tiffany said. “Getting it here helps us save money for other living expenses.”
Healthy Kids Markets served more than 213,800 individuals and distributed 1.3 million pounds of food during fiscal year 2014-2015.
Older adult programs provide food for at-risk population
“The fruit I get here, it’s like a gift for me,” said 76-year-old Ruth Ann Webb, as she picked up fresh bananas, oranges and pears from an Older Adult Choice Market on the Near North Side. “Some months it’s rather tight, and I can’t afford produce,”
Thirty-six percent of households served by the Food Depository include at least one older adult. In fiscal year 2014-2015, the Food Depository distributed more than 1.2 million pounds of food to older adults at 58 sites, including Older Adult Choice Markets.
Ruth Ann has been coming to the Market for the past two years, since her husband passed away. She retired from her job in a legal clinic in the late 1990s. She receives Social Security and a small pension, but struggles to make ends meet every month.
“Sometimes my Social Security just isn’t enough,” she said. “It’s a good thing that this is available.”
Marie Robinson also receives food from the Market.
“This helps a lot,” she said, after picking up oranges, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and more. “I put three children through college working as a cashier for 22 years. Right now there’s just not much money left.”
Marie also struggles to pay bills and afford food on a small Social Security check every month.
“I wouldn’t have fresh produce if it weren’t for this,” she said.
During fiscal year 2014-2015, Ventas, Inc. committed $1 million of five years in support of older adult programs.
‘We lifted our voices and lawmakers were listening’ Food Depository advocates make an impact on hunger
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 in May that gathers advocates from the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other Illinois organizations in Springfield to discuss the issue of hunger with lawmakers. It was one of the Food Depository’s many advocacy initiatives this year.
“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.”
At Lobby Day, advocates encouraged lawmakers to support Senate Bill 1847, which increases SNAP eligibility by raising income limits. Their efforts worked. The bill passed through the General Assembly with bipartisan support and was signed into law in late July. It will take effect January 1, 2016. As many as 40,000 low-income families in Illinois will now be eligible for SNAP benefits because of the new law.
The Food Depository also advocated on a federal level this year. In March, more than 30 advocates, including representatives from Food Depository partner agencies, attended the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The group met with lawmakers from the Cook County delegation to advocate for support of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) the law that guides and funds most children’s meal programs.
Many of the partner agency representatives that went to Washington shared their stories with lawmakers about the impact of these programs, including Tanya Lee, the coordinator of a food pantry in Maywood.
When Tanya was 15, she 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) a program funded by the Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
“The WIC program really allowed me to get on my feet,” she said.
The program provided a critical source of nutritious food for her young son food that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.
In addition to advocacy for a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the Food Depository continued to ask federal lawmakers to protect funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In April, Food Depository Executive Director and CEO Kate Maehr and Keleigh Green-Patton, a Chicago’s Community Kitchens graduate and former SNAP recipient, testified about the importance of SNAP in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture.
“SNAP was like a trampoline,” Keleigh told the committee. “It was able to bounce my family and me into a brighter future.”For more on the Food Depository’s advocacy efforts, visit chicagosfoodbank.org/advocacy.
100,000 strong fighting hunger together
On June 20, more than 14,300 individuals, families, partner agencies and corporate teams wearing green filled the lakefront. The energized group gathered to raise awareness of hunger and support food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters at the Food Depository’s 30th Annual Hunger Walk.
The turnout was a Hunger Walk record and contributed to the Food Depository reaching a significant milestone 100,000 yearly supporters.
“It’s humbling to know more than 100,000 individuals join us in the fight against hunger every year,” said Jill Zimmerman, Food Depository vice president of development. “The support of our community is inspiring and we wouldn’t be able to achieve our mission without it.”
Those who attended events such as the Hunger Walk and Chicago Commercial Real Estate Awards Dinner contributed to the 100,000 total, as did donors, volunteers and advocacy actions and registered food drives.
For Julian Blumenthal, a longtime Food Depository volunteer who drove the Lunch Bus this summer, supporting the organization gives him a sense of pride.
“Volunteering at the Food Depository is a win-win for me,” he said. “I’m able to help out people in need and at the same time, I feel good about making an impact.”
Besides volunteering, many of the Food Depository’s supporters organize food drives. In fiscal year 2014-2015, food drives accounted for more than 1 million pounds of shelf-stable groceries the most the Food Depository has ever collected.
Many of those who organize food drives throughout the year are corporate groups, such as Morningstar, Inc., which organizes a virtual food drive during the holiday season and volunteers monthly.
“The virtual food drive has become woven into the fabric of what we do here,” said Kate Cohler, Morningstar’s director of community relations.
Throughout November and December, the Food Depository’s 1 City, 1 Food Drive campaign unites 500 food drives and 250 public food donation locations.
Because of the support of volunteers, donors, food drives, advocates and those who attended events, the Food Depository was able to distribute 68 million pounds of food to hungry men, women and children in Cook County last year.
Food as medicine
Health and hunger often intersect.
According to the Hunger in America 2014 study, 44 percent of clients accessing the Food Depository’s network said they were in fair or poor health. Sixty percent of client households include someone who has high blood pressure and 35 percent of households include someone with diabetes.
To address the connection between health and hunger, the Food Depository recently launched a partnership with Access Community Health, a network of federally-qualified health centers in Cook County.
“We want to make sure medical providers know that patients can be food insecure and if they are, that can be a contributing factor to their health,” said Dawn Melchiorre, Food Depository senior director of programs.
As part of the partnership, Access staff is now screening their patients for food insecurity. If positive, those patients receive a referral to a local pantry and contact information for the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach team. They also receive a “prescription” for produce, which clients can pick up from the Fresh Truck a walk-through produce market which stops at select Access sites.
“When we began the food insecurity screens, we started to see what we were dealing with,” said Brian Bragg, director of health and community integration at Access. “There are a lot of patients who identify as food insecure and this partnership provides them with much-needed resources.”
Dana Robinson is an Access patient who recently received fresh produce from the Fresh Truck. She’s taking care of twin 10-year-old boys while working part-time as a nursing assistant and going to school to get her nursing degree.
“I’m trying to keep me and my boys healthy,” she said. “To do that, I need to have healthy food. But there’s no way I could afford fruit like this otherwise.”
So far, four Access sites are screening for food insecurity, with plans to expand the screen to all 35 Cook County health centers.
In addition to the Access Community Health partnership, the Food Depository partnered in September with the Cook County Health and Hospitals System to host the Food As Medicine symposium. The half-day conference united physicians, policy experts and Food Depository staff in a discussion about the intersection of health and hunger.
Connecting clients to benefits: SNAP Outreach team assists with nearly 4,300 applications
For many, applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can be an overwhelming and confusing process. Often, people in need are too embarrassed to visit an office to apply or have trouble correctly completing the 11-page application. SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger, but in Illinois eight percent of eligible households are not receiving benefits.
The Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach team connects clients with SNAP by providing in-person and over the phone application assistance, eligibility screening and application follow-up. In fiscal year 2014-2015, the team assisted with nearly 4,300 applications. The team pre-screened more than 3,400 households for SNAP eligibility and attended 218 enrollment events.
“SNAP is a crucial part of the nutrition safety net,” said Sheila Creghin, Food Depository vice president of operations. “Our SNAP Outreach team works hard to make sure eligible clients are getting the benefits they need to live a healthy life.”
Elvia Esparza sees the need for SNAP every day. She is the client resource coordinator at the Irving Park Community Food Pantry, which serves many clients receiving SNAP benefits.
“SNAP is a great help for families, especially those with parents who’ve just lost jobs or are underemployed,” she said. “For people who are struggling, it can help them get back on their feet.”
Irving Park is one of 29 agencies that are part of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach Network. Volunteers at these agencies are specially trained by the Food Depository to offer SNAP application assistance and information to clients during pantry distributions.
Gladys Montoya, a SNAP Outreach volunteer, has been helping clients fill out SNAP applications for the last three years.
“This is a good service for people,” she said. “Some of the people I assist are too intimidated to go into an unemployment office. I know it’s a lot of help for those who need it. People are thankful for this service.”