In Cook County alone, nearly a million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s a 70% increase in the past seven years. As WGN’s Steve Sanders reports, food pantries are the only way thousands of Chicago area families are keeping food on their tables.
“Smile, it’s a good day. We have enough food in there, don’t worry about it, everybody will be served.” Every Wednesday for almost 20 years, the Union Avenue Food Pantry at 4350 South Union Avenue in Canaryville, has been helping people in need, just like scores of other churches, soup kitchens, and shelters all over the city and country.
“Could I have the first two families.” Ray Carey has been here from the beginning, offering food and friendship. “I know how people feel out in that line if you don’t have any food for your kids. Because I know what it is to have the gas shut off. The lights shut off. No food for a couple of days.” Tracy Farrell-Granat has lived in Canaryville all of her 32 years. “It’s not just a food pantry, it’s like a family.”
She stood in line the first time with a secret. She had just learned she was pregnant with twins, her fourth and fifth children. “I didn’t know where to go and I was scared and shocked. And they basically opened their arms to me.” Five years later, “I love you Mommy. I love you too,” Tracy and her family are feeling overwhelmed again. “This is my gas bill it’s a total amount of $2,127.19 is what I owe. And average monthly bill is $436.68.”
“This winter has been especially brutal on all of us,” says Steven McCullough, a Vice President at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the food bank for all of Cook County. “What’s especially difficult is when a family is doing all the right things. They’re working, but just not making enough money to make ends meet. We’re on track this year to distribute close to 70-million pounds of food.” They provide most of the canned goods, fresh produce, meat, and dairy products for 450 facilities like Union Avenue. “What’s new is suburban poverty. And the other thing that’s new is special populations like children and older adults and veterans.”
Veteran and longtime Canaryville resident David Martinez grew up just blocks from the Union Avenue United Methodist Church. “They give me everything basically I need.” Yet, he didn’t know about their food pantry until cancer struck; not once, but three times. He considers the pantry among his life savers. “My friends my faith, my family, the VA, and the care that they’ve given me; and the food depository that they’ve provided with the nutrients. Not just giving me the nutrients, but they were also very encouraging.”
He was one of the many who were suffering and too proud to ask for help. “Swallow that stupid pride. If you’re not thinking about yourself, think about your family.” Ray Carey says so many more people are hurting these days. “We have always worked with hungry families. But, the situation we’re in right now I really feel it, I see it, these people are desperate.” People like Tracy and her family.
“I’ve been doing it for so long. But it’s just, it’s hard. It’s hard to keep telling them I’m sorry you can’t have this you can’t have that. And they understand but they shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t be like this.” The Greater Chicago Food Depository has seen a 70-percent increase in the number of people visiting their network over the past seven years. And close to a million people in Cook County alone don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s one in six adults, one in five kids. “This is something that we can resolve in our lifetime,” says Steven McCullough. “We can insure that no one goes hungry. We have the partners, we have the volunteers, we have our member agencies. It can be done.”
Union Avenue’s Ray Carey is proud to say they’ve never turned anyone away. “I care about the first family, and I care about the last family that’s coming in at 1:00 and that’s why it works. We’ll see you man. Take it easy.”
The church that houses the Union Avenue Food Pantry is also struggling to pay their heating bills, the last one more than $3,000.00. Please help by sharing this story and clicking the links below.
Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Mike D’Angelo contributed to this report.