Public-private partnership to fight hunger in Illinois

By Chris Loeber

An initiative is in place to address an ongoing problem that impacts approximately 2 million people in Illinois: hunger and lack of access to healthy food.

The Illinois No Kid Hungry campaign was recently launched with the goal of significantly reducing the number of children in the state who do not have access to food. The partnership between the State of Illinois and Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting hunger across the country, was announced March 14 at the Parker Child Parent Center, 328 W. 69th.

“It is sobering to realize that this morning, there were 700-some thousand children who are in families that weren’t sure if they were going to have enough food to eat,” said Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “We have a responsibility to make sure that every child who is eligible for a meal gets that meal.”

The campaign follows two years of research conducted by the Illinois Commission to End Hunger appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010 to create a plan of action to address hunger throughout the state. That plan was outlined in the 2012 Commission to End Hunger report released March 14.

The campaign will adhere to the recommendations set forth by the commission, the most important of which is the need to raise awareness about the issue itself, according to Bill Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength.

“The greatest challenge is raising awareness that [the campaign is] actually a need,” Shore said. “A lot of people still are shocked to find that there is hunger in America, Illinois and in Chicago.”

Approximately 384,000 Chicago residents do not have adequate access to food, according to a 2011 report released by the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group. In Illinois, an estimated 2 million people—almost 15 percent of Illinois residents, including 745,000 children—do not know where their next meal will come from, according to the report.

Several federal programs are in place to assist Illinois residents, including the school breakfast and lunch programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to low-income individuals and families.

Because much of the funding is provided by the federal government and corporate sponsors, the campaign and the ongoing efforts of the commission will not dip into the state’s budget, said Cristal Thomas, deputy governor of Illinois and co-chair of the commission.

A partnership between Share Our Strength and the Illinois Commission to End Hunger was one of Thomas’ first suggestions when Quinn appointed her co-chair, she said.

After extensive efforts to research the diverse needs of people who lack access to food throughout the state, the commission is intent on fighting the hunger of people of all ages and demographics.

“The Commission to End Hunger is dealing with hunger broadly in the state,” Thomas said. “This focus on children is kind of the initial step, but we also have a lot of recommendations that we want to implement and that we are going to implement around adult hunger, the elderly [and] the disabled.”