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Feature Fri Mar 26 2010

Feeding Chicago

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Nothing breaks my heart more than walking by someone outside who is in need of a meal. No matter their past or how they got to where they are, no one should go hungry. In a city that attracts people for its great food, I always have such a hard time understanding how some people go hungry for days on end.

In 2009, the Greater Chicago Food Depository conducted extensive research in conjunction with Feeding America and found that nearly 678,000 people each year rely on emergency and supplemental food in Cook County, a 36 percent increase since 2006. Each day, food pantries in Cook County serve more than 142,400 men, women and children. Check out more key findings from this study here.

The Lakeview Food Pantry is one of the most successful pantries in Chicago and has been helping feed the hungry since 1970. Delivering more than a million pounds of food each year, the pantry has two distribution centers, a home delivery program, case management services and clothing distribution.

With its 40th anniversary quickly approaching in April, Executive Director Gary Garland says this is the busiest he has seen the pantry in the 23 years he's been working for the organization. Last year, 33,000 people visited the pantry and more than 1.3 million pounds of food was distributed, a 10 percent increase from 2008; in 2008, the organization saw a 17 percent increase from the year before. Keeping up with the growing demand is the biggest challenge that Lakeview is currently facing.

I asked Gary about the reason for the incredible growth in demand and he said it was twofold. The economy is the obvious cause -- we all know how it's impacted individuals, but it's also had a big effect on the food pantries. The Lakeview Food Pantry isn't alone in trying to keep up with the demand.

"We're a very stable pantry," he said. "We are lucky to have great support -- both in food and money donations. Not all pantries in the area are as fortunate and when they can't meet the needs of the community, people come to us."

Another challenge many pantries face is the shortage of donations during months after the holiday season. Earlier this year, I started yoga teacher training and was inspired by one of my fellow students, Daniel Benoit, who spoke about the volunteer work he does for the Lakeview Food Pantry. He told us about the abundance of food the pantries receive during the holiday season and how food donations taper off significantly once the season has passed.

"Generally, February and March are the slowest," Benoit said. "A lot of people are in the giving mood during the holidays, and the pantry can live off that generosity for a couple of months -- and then the supplies begin to dwindle."

Food pantries all over the city have been facing this challenge for years. The difference in support from December to February is close to 90 percent with no drops in the number of people who rely on the pantries. To compensate, many pantries do a heavy push for food drives during this time of year.

The next time you have a few hours to kill, stop by your local food pantry and see if they could use a hand. Volunteering at a pantry is a very humbling experience. When I asked Benoit why he loved volunteering at the pantry, he said, "The volunteers are from all walks of life and they make coming back very easy to do. Most clients are grateful and they let us know, that puts a smile in my heart."

Now, more than ever, the Chicago food pantries need our help. Whether you donate time, money or food, every little bit helps to feed the thousands of hungry people in our community.

Photo by Kris Litman

This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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