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One in six people residing in Cook County does not know where his or her next meal is coming from. According to data collected by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 845,910 people in the county need assistance affording food.
The GCFD has partnered with the city of Chicago in a campaign to fight hunger. The “One City, One Food Drive,” which began on Nov. 21 and ends on Dec. 16, is an initiative to collect donations and deliver them to people struggling to make ends meet.
“Here at the food bank, we believe everyone deserves a healthy meal, three meals per day and a well-rounded diet,” said Meaghan Farno, GCFD public relations coordinator. “Any uncertainty or stress caused by not knowing for sure where your next meal is coming from is
According to a written statement by the city of Chicago, the partnership is in relation to its “One Good Deed Chicago” campaign, which promotes volunteerism with nonprofit organizations.
“Chicago is not just a collection of neighborhoods,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a written statement.
“We are one city, and in difficult times, with the combined generosity of the people of this city, we can give some hope and support to those who need it most.”
“One City, One Food Drive” is held during the holiday season because of an increase in the number of individuals struggling with increased utilities costs, Farno said.
The project is an umbrella campaign of various food drive partners, Farno said. The GCFD has 650 member agencies consisting of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Barrels to collect food donations are placed throughout the Chicagoland area, and can be found at libraries, fire stations, police stations and InterPark parking garages.
One-day events are major sources of contributions. On Nov. 27, volunteers advocated for donations at the second Union Station Food Drive. They distributed bags during rush hour, asking people to return them full of foodstuffs the following morning.
“It was a huge success,” Farno said. “Last year, we collected 6,000 pounds, and this year we more than doubled it.”
The Holly Jolly Trolley, another GCFD-sponsored event, will be returning to Columbia on Dec. 8 to gather donations. Collection barrels will be located in the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building.
The GCFD collects donations year-round and distributes them to its member agencies that then give them to those in need.
The Chatham-Avalon Ministries food pantry, one of the member agencies, serves between 230 and 250 individuals per week. The client-choice pantry, located at 8601 S. State St., allows people the opportunity to pick the items they want. According to Anna Horton, the pantry’s operations manager, clients strongly appreciate having the pantry as an option when money is tight.
“Sometimes, we get clients [who] come [as we are closing] and they tell me, ‘I don’t have any food,’” Horton said. “We can’t turn them away when they don’t have any food. It’s helping people to survive.”
According to Farno, the high level of need in Chicago is unrelenting. The past three years have seen a 59-percent increase in the number of people turning to the GCFD, and the numbers remain “phenomenally” high.
“There are a lot of people [who] have never had to turn to a food pantry before,” Farno said. “A lot of people have been laid off or had their hours significantly cut back, so we’re dealing with a lot of new faces.”
According to Farno, 69 million pounds of food were distributed in 2010. The majority of the food comes from donations by individuals, food manufacturers and retailers. The rest comes from U.S. Department of Agriculture government commodities and what the GCFD has purchased.
“If everyone in Chicago donates one can of food, we can end hunger in our community,” said Kate Maehr, GCFD executive director and CEO, in a written statement.
Those interested in donating or holding their own food drive, call (733) 247-3663 or visit the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s website, ChicagosFoodBank.org.