According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 800,000 Chicagoans live in food insecure households. For a city of our size, that translates to roughly 3 out of every 10 people. At Heartland Health Outreach, our staff works with Chicago’s homeless, sickest, and poorest people – and because of that, almost every person we see deals with food insecurity.
Food insecurity isn’t exactly the same as hunger; it’s a complex term because poverty is complicated. Most people picture hunger as Depression-era dustbowls or Ethiopian famines. But hunger in America is tied up in a web of income, neighborhood, housing, health, and the ability to make ends meet. Hunger is unpredictable, cyclical, and hard to spot. In other words, hunger has been replaced by food insecurity, which means living in a situation where food is not a guarantee.
Food insecurity means living with stress, worry, and, often, outright hunger. Some people in food insecure homes live far from a grocery store, and some earn paychecks that can’t cover their meals. Living in food insecurity is often described as a juggling act. Some months, everything is fine. But one sudden expense or move can mean no longer having enough money for food or knowing where to find it.
HHO is proud that our program for people with chronic diseases, Vital Bridges, has grocery locations strategically located in Chicago’s highest-need areas (as well as a center in Elk Grove Village to serve the suburbs.) At our grocery centers, people living with HIV/AIDS and struggling food insecurity can access an array of nutritious foods. They can also meet with registered dietitians to learn about making nutritious meals for their health conditions and budgets. In other words, they can learn ways to combat and overcome their food insecurity.
Over the years, the community has generously helped stock our grocery centers. We keep costs low by purchasing in bulk or at wholesale prices, but donations help us provide non-perishable foods. With ample non-perishables, we can use our budget to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and frozen meats. Each year, local organizations, schools, and businesses provide nearly 20% of the food we distribute.
Our annual food drive, Harvest for Hope, makes it easy for local organizations to get involved and make a difference. In 2013, here is a snapshot of what Harvest for Hope accomplished:
In 2014, we hope to collect over $35,000 worth of food and reach 1500 number of people with 420,000 number of meals. We are also asking for the community’s help to collect household items and personal care items for our participants. For people living with HIV, a clean, hygienic environment is absolutely imperative to keep the immune system in tip-top shape. Items like paper towels, toilet paper, household cleaner, toothpaste, and soap are expensive and not covered by food stamps.
Food insecurity is a complex issue that can’t be solved overnight. But little by little, we can cut into Chicago’s 30% percent. Solid health is impossible without nutritious food, and together, we can help improve life for all the members of our community – especially those who need the most help.
Interesting in helping us make a difference? You can learn more about joining this year’s Harvest for Hope here. Whether you collect donations on your own or with a group, every item will go directly to the people we serve! For more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to me: (773) 271-5117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.