April Food Day 2018 Recap

661,630 people in Cook County are food insecure. That’s 12.6% of the population – 23% of whom do not qualify for Food Stamps. For our neighbors in Will County the numbers may be slightly lower – with a food insecurity rate of 7.7% – but a staggering 39% of those individuals do not qualify for Food Stamps assistance.

For those who do qualify, it’s often not enough. A family of four earning less than $40,000 a year will only receive an average of $200 a month for Food Stamps food assistance.

On April 25, United Way of Metro Chicago hosted the annual April Food Day food drive and inaugural luncheon to address the issue of hunger across the South-Southwest suburban region.

More than 128,000 pounds of food were collected this year, exceeding last year’s goal of 109,000 pounds. All donations were taken to the Tinley Park Convention Center the day of the event, where they were sorted and packaged by a group of volunteers, including students from the surrounding school districts.

Southland residents, politicians and business leaders joined the United Way South-Southwest regional team at the inaugural April Food Day luncheon, honoring leaders in our community. Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau received the Community Award, Tinley Park Convention Center received the Business Award, and Johanns Williams, United Way South Suburban regional board member and Regional Franchise Service Director for LaQuinta Inns & Suites, received the Individual Leadership Award.

Our keynote speaker for the luncheon, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, shared her story and how her childhood in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project made this an issue close to her heart. Having grown up all too familiar with what it feels like to face food insecurity, Ms. Foxx discussed the importance of addressing the issue of hunger in order to help individuals and families reach their fullest potential.

Meeting these basic needs lays a strong foundation in United Way’s fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in the region. The work is not over yet, but the food and supplies raised through this year’s April Food Day efforts are a crucial step in providing for the residents of the South-Southwest Suburban region – and a big reason to celebrate.

Carts, Client Choice and April Food Day

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“There is nothing quite like seeing this for yourself to understand why this is so important,” said Rick Pesavento, United Way of DuPage/West Cook Fundraising Manager, as we reconvened in the community room after an enlightening tour of Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville, Illinois. “This really helps us tell the story to our donors as we collect food all across the region for April Food Day.”

The Client Choice model gives clients a sense of dignity as they shop through the rows of what feels like the typical grocery store. The most nutritious choices are marked with a “Smart Check” label that indicates the item is low in sugar, salt, fat and high in fiber. Clients are given an allotted number of choices in each category based on family size, and they can select the items within each food group that meet their family’s tastes and nutritional needs.

“This leads to less waste and addresses any cultural and family preferences,” said Jane Macdonald Sr. Program Director of Loaves & Fishes.

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The organization’s five guiding principles, Community, Compassion, Dignity, Hope and Service were apparent in every part of their operation. More than 100 volunteers dedicate their time and service each day. Loaves and Fishes can proudly boast national recognition as one of the leaders in “food recovery.”

Jody Bender, their Community Relations Director, told our group: “Food recovery or food rescue is the practice of safely retrieving foods that would otherwise go to waste–and a perfect way to provide many more fresh food items to our clients. Once delivered or picked up by our pantry, our volunteers sort through racks carrying fruits and vegetables of all varieties to pull the items that are usable. Within 24 to 48 hours, the remaining products are in the kitchens of needy area families.”

In line with United Way of DuPage/West Cook’s agency partners, Loaves and Fishes does more than provide one-time direct service–they provide a holistic approach and offer wrap-around supportive services such as ESL classes, help accessing benefits, and employment assistance to help people break the cycle of poverty. Loaves and Fishes calls this approach “Pathways to Empowerment” as it charts a course to self-sufficiency.

As quoted by one of their clients, “At one point of my life, I had it together. Never would I have thought I would be waiting in line at a food pantry. Once I lost my job at a mortgage company, I found myself seeking assistance to meet the daily needs for my child and myself. I have now volunteered and am giving back to the community. Thank you for sharing and caring.”

If you or your company would like to donate food to April Food Day, click here to find a drop-off location in your area. For sponsorship opportunities, contact Jamana Jamison at 630.645.6339 or Jamana.Jamison@uw-mc.org.