In Hyde Park, more than 8,000 people—about 33 percent of the neighborhood’s population—are eligible for some federal nutrition programs, according to the most recent U.S. Census data available.
Greg Trotter, a former Chicago Tribune reporter on the food industry and current content manager for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said that poverty level estimates are a good indicator of economic need and generally tracks closely with food insecurity.
“Hunger is more of a physiological term. Anybody can be hungry at any point, but to be food insecure is more of a socioeconomic condition: a person who lacks consistent access to nutritious food,” Trotter said.
Trotter further explained that food insecurity can be a temporary or long-term situation affecting many types of people, including those who may be experiencing homelessness or have mental health issues, working class families who are struggling to make monthly payments, and college students.
44 percent of the City Colleges of Chicago students were food insecure, according to a study by researchers at Temple University that found 44 percent of students at the City Colleges of Chicago were food insecure in the 30 days prior to the study.
According to Trotter, people are often surprised to hear the food depository has locations at college campuses in the city, like at Harold Washington College. Trotter explained that in his experience talking to students, they may not have a sufficient economic support system to both pay for classes and pay for food.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository distributes food to over 700 partner agencies throughout the city and Cook County. It aims to combat food insecurity by partnering with food pantries, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and other similar organizations.
One such partner is Feed1st, an organization managed by the Lindau Lab and is part of the University of Chicago Medical Center. Feed1st, started in 2010 by UChicago Medicine professor Stacy Lindau, ensures patients and caregivers at the hospital have access to nutritious food.
According to Kelsey Paradise, a project manager at Lindau Lab, their food pantry is free and available for all patients and their families during the day or night. Paradise explained that this approach combats the stigma of food insecurity.
“It can be incredibly stigmatizing to ask people for help, especially around food, and even more so when you are in the hospital with your children trying to help them get better,” Paradise said.
The majority of patients and caregivers who use the pantries are residents of the South Side who find themselves facing food insecurity while at the hospital, according to Paradise.
“You cannot tell whether someone is food insecure just by looking at them, especially in the hospital setting. And I do think food insecurity is something everyone can get behind because everyone knows what it feels like to be hungry,” Paradise said.
Trotter said that another goal of the Food Depository is to eliminate the root causes of food insecurity through job training initiatives and connecting people to federal benefits programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to help lift people out of poverty.
Along with helping individuals, the Food Depository focuses on advocacy for public policy to serve people who are food insecure.
The high cost of food in the hospital cafeteria or lack of access to an affordable grocery store in the area often leaves people questioning when and where they will get their next meal.
In the fiscal year 2019, Feed1st’s food pantries fed over 5,000 individuals and over 1,700 households; the pantries have fed over 21,000 individuals and over 7,000 households since opening nine years ago.
Through their online “Food Pantry Toolkit,” which outlines how they run their organization, Feed1st hopes to help other hospitals and organizations both nationally and in the Chicago area adopt their model of a food pantry.
Students or community members who wish to get involved in combating food insecurity can go to the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s website to find local food pantries to volunteer at and find ways to donate to the depository as recommended by Trotter.
The depository also promotes citizen involvement in advocacy for policies that address the socioeconomic causes of food insecurity.