Thanksgiving usually requires filling our bellies with turkey, mashed potatoes, and lots of dessert. But for many, it’s not that simple.
According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, one in five households in the Chicago area face food insecurity.
Similarly, a national report found that 17 million households were food insecure at some point in 2022, signaling that food insecurity is on the rise.
“While we would all say these results are disappointing and disheartening, it was not surprising,” said Jill Rahman, chief operating officer at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “We’ve seen the need grow and we’ve responded to that, and our goal is to continue to do that in 2023 as we continue to see the need grow.”
Rahman said the increase was partly due to the impact of the pandemic, inflation and people losing their jobs.
“These problems don’t lead to quick solutions,” Rahman said. “I would also say we look at where it happens. When you peel the onion back to the research, you see that households with children are more likely to be food insecure in Chicago. Black households with children are 33% of them and so we need to look at poverty issues. We need to look at issues of inequality.”
The Woodlawn Community Food Pantry is now open one extra day a week to meet demand.
“The needs have changed dramatically since a year ago. … People have to choose between buying food or paying for housing, buying food or paying for medical services,” said Reginald Guy, director of the pantry’s Senior Commodity Box program. “So it really has an impact on our community.”
According to Guy, the pantry is seeing more younger people, as well as migrants, making up a larger percentage of the population served.
“When we started the food pantry in 2019, our demographic was mostly seniors; 60 and over account for about 90%,” Guy said. “Nowadays we see 50% older people and 50% young people aged 18 to 55. We were mostly black residents of Woodlawn. Today, with the influx of migrants, we also have a high Hispanic and migrant population that also comes to our food pantry to get the food they need.
Meanwhile, Angela Taylor, wellness coordinator for the Garfield Park City Council, is part of an initiative that’s taking matters into her own hands.
The initiative has opened a pop-up grocery store in West Garfield Park, which is set to run until December 21.
The pop-up is meant to ensure local residents have access to the groceries they need before the holidays and during the planned closing of the Save-a-Lot store on Pulaski Road.
“(There’s) absolutely no grocery store in either direction,” Taylor said. “A mile north, south, east west, you will not find a quality grocery or grocery store at all in the Garfield Park community. We couldn’t just sit on the sidelines and not pay attention to the fact that you have to get on the bus, take a Lyft, cost extra to access, go shopping.”
Her group has also hosted a neighborhood farmers market for the past 11 years, trying to teach the community where the healthy food “that’s in the ground” comes from.
“We all have the ability to put some of this together on our own, right where we live, we don’t need a whole backyard,” Taylor said. “You can grow tomatoes, cucumbers in a container.”
The Census Bureau’s recent poverty report showed poverty rising to 12.4 percent in 2022, more than double what it was in 2021.
Audra Wilson, president and CEO of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law and a member of the Illinois Commission to End Hunger, said food insecurity and poverty go hand in hand.
“A lot of people don’t recognize that hunger is a crisis in the United States because we don’t think about it the same way we think about other countries,” Wilson said. “But the fact is that there are so many families who are unable to pay for their groceries, they’re missing meals, they’re in places where they don’t have access to quality food, so it’s easier to get chips and a lot of junk food , rather than getting fresh produce.”
Advocates have stressed that the repeal of numerous pandemic-era public assistance programs, such as the child tax credit and SNAP emergency benefits, is having a negative impact on families who needed that help.
“When emergency SNAP benefits were cut off for Illinois residents in February, … you saw an immediate increase in the number of people going to pantries, and that’s not even including the increase in migrants who came to the Chicago area,” Wilson said. “It’s no surprise that you’re seeing a direct correlation to the decline at the end of those benefits, especially this year.”
Contact Acacia Hernandez: @acacia_rosita | [email protected]