One week ago, we teamed up with Starbucks to raise funds for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It was a very successful events reaching Starbucks customers in 19 stores throughout Cook County. We felt very good about that event this evening when WTTW Chicago devoted a segment on “Chicago Tonight” to the results of study below that found over 500,000 people rely on the services of the Greater Chicago Food Depository each year.

We are proud to be a supporting member of the GCFD throughout the year and are delighted to use our Eli’s Cheesecake Festival and to work with great partners, like Starbucks, to fight hunger.

New study finds 500,000 rely on Food Depository
Agencies report increased need; working poor, children, elderly seek food

CHICAGO, IL — Close to 500,000 people each year rely on emergency and supplemental food provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository and its member network of almost 600 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters throughout Cook County, according to a new study released today. That figure represents a significant increase over previous studies conducted by the Food Depository. The U.S. Census Bureau listed more than 759,000 people in Cook County as living below the poverty level in 2004.

A key finding of the study is that growing numbers of Cook County residents are relying on agencies for stop-gap food assistance. Working poor families, parents of young children and elderly are among those who need Food Depository assistance to help make ends meet. Thirty-nine percent of the households who receive food from the Food Depository include at least one employed adult, according to the study. About 33 percent of the people the Food Depository serves are children under 18. Ten percent of study respondents were 65 and older.

More than 70 percent of Food Depository agencies reported an increase in need during the last four years.

“This study confirms what we have been hearing from our member soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters over the past few years: it’s getting tougher for people to make ends meet,” said Michael Mulqueen, executive director of the Food Depository. “The Food Depository has concentrated efforts on refining existing programs and developing new ones to help address the critical concerns of our most vulnerable citizens. What is especially important is that agencies are equipped to serve anyone who needs help.”

The Food Depository’s research was conducted in early 2005 in conjunction with America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization with a network of more than 200 food banks and food rescue organizations. Nationwide, the study found that 25 million people rely on food and grocery assistance provided by network food banks and food rescue organizations. More than 52,000 clients and 30,000 agencies were surveyed nationwide. The study was designed and results validated by national research firm Mathematica Policy Research. For the Cook County study, 438 clients and 324 agency heads were interviewed. Improvements to local survey methodology in 2005—including additional questions clients were asked—prevent a direct comparison to a similar 2001 study.

“This study provides a new benchmark of hunger in Cook County and the results highlight growing needs,” said Lisa Koch, Food Depository director of public policy, who coordinated local study efforts. “While the Food Depository provides food to a half-million men, women and children, local census data tells us that we need continued support to shrink the gap between those who need help and our means to provide it.”

Other Chicago area findings include:

  • 25 percent of households served have at least one family member in poor health
  • 22 percent of clients surveyed live in the suburbs
  • Only 9 percent of clients are homeless—23 percent live in a house, 59
    percent reside in apartments and 8 percent own the place they live

Also highlighted were the hard choices people make and how food assistance helps make ends meet.

  • 41 percent of clients said they had to choose between paying for food and utilities or heating fuel
  • 31 percent reported choosing between paying for food and rent or mortgage
  • 26 percent of clients said they had to choose between food and paying for medicine or healthcare

Oftentimes, hard choices led to hunger.

  • 32 percent of clients with children said their children skipped meals during the previous year
  • 26 percent of adult clients said they didn’t eat for an entire day at least once during the last year
  • 81 percent of households reported a situation during the last year where the food they bought “just didn’t last and they didn’t have money to get more.”

In addition to distributing more than 40 million pounds of food annually, the Food Depository targets at-risk populations. Future programs under consideration include a program that focuses on distributing produce to seniors and a mobile pantry that responds to neighborhoods or agencies with increased needs. Current programs include:

Kids Cafes®—Partnerships with established after-school and summer programs where the Food Depository provides hot meals for children. The Food Depository now distributes meals, nutrition education and other initiatives to more than 30 sites and 1,800 children annually. Kids Cafes are a program of America’s Second Harvest administered locally by the Food Depository.

Chicago’s Community Kitchens—an intensive foodservice training program for unemployed and underemployed adults housed in the Food Depository’s state-of-the-art food bank and training center. The free, 12-week program moves students toward self-sufficiency through rigorous hand-on training, internships and job placement. More than 300 students have graduated from Chicago’s Community Kitchens, which strives to help individuals break their own cycles of poverty.

Pantry University—An award-winning initiative of the Food Depository, Pantry University is dedicated to continually strengthening the capabilities and reach of member agencies by providing educational workshops on topics such as food safety, nutrition, fundraising and information technology. More than 961 people representing 344 agencies have taken Pantry University classes.

Producemobiles—To make fresh fruits and vegetables available to low-income people, the Food Depository has two Producemobiles, 30-foot-long, refrigerated “farmers markets on wheels” that partner with community organizations to distribute up to 15,000 pounds each of free fresh fruits and vegetables among people at risk for hunger.

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