The Cook County is the second-most populous county in the United States after Los Angeles County, California. Its county seat is Chicago, the largest city in Illinois and third-most populous city in the United States. Yosef Meystel read that more than 40% of all residents of Illinois live in Cook County. In it, more than 812,000 men, women, and children, approximately 1 in 6 in, turn to the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s network each year. The number of people the network serves has increased in recent years, but they promise they will continue to fight hunger until that 1 in 6 becomes none. The Food Depository serves more than 232,100 households annually. 68 % of programs reported an increase in the volume of clients over the last 12 months. 69 % of client households have incomes that fall at or below the federal poverty level. 54 percent of client households have annual incomes of $10,000 or less. 58 % of households served through the Food Depository network are currently receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Foundation and History
The Greater Chicago Food Depository is Chicago’s food bank. A nonprofit food distribution and training center that provides food for hungry people while striving to end hunger in our community. The Food Depository was founded in 1979. Tom O’Connell collaborated with Robert W. Strube Sr., Father Philip Marquard, Gertrude Snodgrass, Ann Connors and Ed Sunshine to set up a food bank, called the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It is called “Food Depository” rather than “Food Bank” because of an Illinois statute that then prohibited the use of the word “bank” in the name of non-banking entities. The City of Chicago provided a start-up grant, and Strube Celery and Vegetable Company donated warehouse space. The Food Depository distributed 471,000 pounds of food from 22 food donors to 85 agencies in its first year of operation. The food bank’s supply grew when Illinois legislators passed a Good Samaritan law in 1981. The legislation protected food contributors from legal liabilities. Within a year food donors increased to 111, distribution to 6.1 million pounds and agencies to 375, and the Food Depository leased a more spacious warehouse. In 1986, the Food Depository established a Perishable Food Program, now known as Food Rescue, with a grant from Chicago Community Trust. The program ferried unused food from restaurants and caterers to soup kitchens. The Food Depository further broadened its distribution in 1993. The Produce People Share Program addressed the need for fresh fruits and vegetables in the community, and the first Kids Cafe began serving after-school hot meals for low-income children. Today, the Greater Chicago Food Depository makes a daily impact across Cook County with a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, mobile programs, children’s programs, older adult programs and innovative responses that address the root causes of hunger. Last year, the Food Depository distributed 70 million pounds of shelf-stable food, fresh produce, dairy products and meat, the equivalent of 160,000 meals every day.
The Cook County Food Access Plan
A two-year plan is being implemented by the Cook County Food Access Task Force. The Cook County Food Access Plan was created by a partnership between the Greater Chicago Food Depository with Cook County, building on existing resources to increase access to nutritious food for households in need and create new solutions to food insecurity. The plan focuses on three initial goals:
The first is to expand a food insecurity screening and referral system at Cook County Health and Hospitals System locations to increase patient access to community food resources as needed. Second is to create a Suburban Cook County Child Nutrition workgroup to increase student access and participation in School Breakfast and Summer Meals programs. And third is to grow the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and incentive programs at farmers markets and farm stands throughout Cook County. SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. The Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits. FNS also works with State partners and the retail community to improve program administration and ensure program integrity.
Most of the product donations for Greater Chicago Food Depository comes from more than 350 local and national food companies, grocers, foodservice organizations, produce markets and growers that find a convenient, safe and reliable way to channel food to us that might otherwise go to waste. Roughly 700 food drives are sponsored each year by local business, professional and community organizations, schools and churches. All food donations are inspected, sorted, repacked and labeled for distribution to agencies by volunteers and employees who operate out of our food bank and training center. Member agencies arrive at the Food Depository every weekday to pick up food they have ordered. In addition, we employ a fleet of climate-controlled vehicles that help pick up and distribute food throughout Cook County.