Fighting Food Insecurity and Hunger at the Source
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In 2019, the US Department of Agriculture reported 13.7 million households across the US experiencing food insecurity, which is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.
When one considers the subsequent events in the last four years – the COVID-19 pandemic and related supply chain disruptions, inflation and more – a source of stress for many families has become a crisis in America.
Food pantries play a vital role for many low-income families, but due to the same challenges listed above, a recent survey from Feeding America found that 60% of food banks have experienced an increase month-over-month demand. Beyond the critical work of providing food and addressing immediate needs, many food banks are providing additional services and support to address the root causes of food insecurity.
Established in 1978, the Greater Chicago Food Depository (the Food Depository) has taken a multi-faceted approach.
“The mission of the Greater Chicago Food Depository is to work to address the root causes of hunger and bring hope and dignity to our neighbors across Cook County,” says Tyler Stratton, the organization’s Associate Director of Youth Programs.
The Food Depository partners with a wide network of food pantries and soup kitchens, provides specialized programming like their youth programs, and other services like job training, workforce development, and benefits outreach. They also have a policy and advocacy team who looks at legislation and the policies that are currently in place which affect their communities and the work they do.
Stratton emphasizes that a focus on the historical and societal impacts that disproportionately affect their communities, is critical to the mission. “We use what we’ve learned to inform everything we do. We’re leveraging those opportunities and resources, combined with the regular distribution of food, to try to end hunger in our communities.”
Their strategic approach includes taking a wider view and identifying gaps in food security throughout the year. For example: summer break is usually a time of excitement and anticipation for schoolchildren. But for many families, it deprives them of a reliable source of healthy meals for their children.
“There are lots of families across Cook County that rely on their young people being in school on a daily basis to get a free breakfast and free lunch, sometimes even a meal or a snack after school as well,” Stratton explains, “Whether it’s their local library, park, church or some of the other community-based organizations they may frequent, we think about how we can work with folks to get free meals out to young people during the summer when young people lose access to important resources.”
In addition to their summer meals program, which is federally funded and regulated, the Food Depository created their popular Lunch Bus program in 2010.
“The intention behind the Lunch Bus [program] was to fill in where there might be gaps in services in high-need areas in Cook County because the local organizations may not have the capacity to serve as a full-blown summer meal site.”
The Food Depository works tirelessly to facilitate the evolution of their programs, and again in 2023, they partnered with the Chicago Park District to supplement the Lunch Bus program with activities for children and their families.
In order to provide these vital services for the Greater Chicago community, Carolyn Bishop-Seder, a Major Gifts officer for the Food Depository, reiterates the value of reliable and consistent funding, noting the important role of donor-advised fund (DAF) support.
We really do count on support from DAFs. Currently it brings in about 12% of our total revenue, which is significant to this work in our community.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository, hard at work feeding families and growing community connections every day, has found like-minded partners in DAF donors making a difference in the lives of others.
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