Hunger may sound like a problem only faced by the poorest regions of the world, but nearly 12% of American households do not know where their next meal will come from. Research also shows that hunger affects many kinds of people in the U.S., across all regions and races and age groups.
That makes the work of the Greater Chicago Food Depository vital to the communities it serves, and has challenged the food bank to continually evolve since it opened back in 1979.
"As the need has evolved in recent years, so too has our response. For example, we serve food pantries in VA hospitals, schools and colleges – nontraditional places for food pantries as compared to 10 years ago," said Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Food Depository. "Certainly many in need are people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness and those with barriers to employment like recent incarceration. But many of them are also working families with young children, college students, military veterans, immigrants striving for a better life and even working professionals recently laid off."
Above: FIA's annual Great Chicago Steak Out event helps raise funds for the Greater Chicago Food Depository each year at its Futures & Options Expo conference. Organizers hope this year's event can raise even more funds to help address the root causes of hunger in the Chicago area.
Below: Ximenio Gray shares his experience with the Chicago's Community Kitchens, a program run by the Food Depository that helps the unemployed and underemployed build a career in foodservice. (Courtesy of GCFD)
The result is a comprehensive approach to tackling hunger and many of its related challenges across the Chicago area; in the last fiscal year, the Food Depository provided the equivalent of 66 million meals in the region.
The Food Depository has also evolved its outreach to look beyond just providing meals to "address the root causes of hunger," Maehr said.
"We also connect people to federal benefits and advocate for policy that will lift people out of poverty. We empower men and women to forge their own way out of food insecurity by teaching them culinary job skills," she said.
One Food Depository program that helps address the root causes of hunger is Chicago’s Community Kitchens. The 14-week job training program began in 1998 and is free for unemployed and underemployed adults in the Cook County region. More than 1,300 students have graduated since Chicago's Community Kitchens got its start, and more than 90% of grads from the last year are currently employed.
In collaboration with the Chicago Private Dining Steakhouse Group, the Great Chicago Steak Out gives attendees the opportunity to give back and make an impact in the Chicago area by raising funds to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Through 2018, FIA’s total contributions have added up to more than $4 million through this annual charitable event that's held in conjunction with its annual Futures & Options Expo in Chicago.
"We’re so very grateful to FIA for hosting the Great Chicago Steak Out, which raises about $380,000 for the Food Depository each year," said Maehr. "Just to put that figure in perspective, $380,000 is enough to fully fund our programming for military veterans for a year, and then some. Or looked at another way, $380,000 could also cover almost six months of Chicago’s Community Kitchens."
This year's Steak Out will take place at Expo on the evening of Oct. 30 at the Hilton Chicago.
To learn more about the Food Depository or to donate to the organization, visit chicagosfoodbank.org.