Two-year strategy will strengthen county-wide response to food insecurity with focus on health, children and access to fresh produce
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Greater Chicago Food Depository today announced the creation of a Cook County Food Access Plan, which builds upon existing resources to increase access of nutritious food for households in need and create new solutions to food insecurity.
Tuesday’s announcement of the two-year plan was made at the Vision of Restoration Food Pantry in suburban Maywood. The pantry serves 322 struggling households each month with nutritious food including fresh produce. The food pantry is one of 650 partner agencies and programs in the Food Depository’s Cook County network. Of the estimated 760,000 food insecure people in Cook County, more than 30% live in suburban communities.
“We have identified food insecurity as a critical issue facing hundreds of thousands of residents throughout Cook County,” President Preckwinkle said. “Hunger impacts every facet of life, and through this call to action -- together with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and with the assistance of our Health and Hospitals System -- we are determined to aggressively address this important issue.”
The Cook County Food Access Plan was created by the Cook County Food Access Steering Committee – a group of leaders from the Cook County government and private charitable sectors. The plan will be implemented by an appointed Cook County Food Access Task Force and focuses on three initial intersections:
Expanding a food insecurity screening and referral system at Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) locations to increase patient access to community food resources as needed. Currently, the Food Depository and CCHHS are partnering on a food insecurity screening and referral system pilot program at the Logan Square Health Center. This program started in summer 2015 and will expand to the Cottage Grove Health Center in Ford Heights in February with plans to reach all CCHHS locations within two years.
Creating a Suburban Cook County Child Nutrition work group to increase student access and participation in School Breakfast and Summer Meals programs. This group will connect more children with nutritious meals by convening partners to raise awareness of and encourage best practices in these federally-sponsored meal programs.
Growing the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and incentive programs at farmers markets and farm stands throughout Cook County. Currently, fewer than 25% of suburban farmers markets accept LINK (EBT) cards for payment. Offering technical assistance and information to farmers markets about the value of SNAP would provide more fresh produce for people in need while increasing sales and bringing more federal dollars to the local economy.
The Task Force will be housed in the County President’s office and collaborate with the Food Depository to complete these three actions within two years. The plan will leverage existing assets and resources and its success depends on the combined efforts of elected officials, public offices, private philanthropists, charitable organizations, schools, businesses and community members alike.
“Every morning, people across our community wake up not knowing if they will have enough food to eat,” said Kate Maehr, Food Depository executive director and CEO. “The consequences of food insecurity are as serious in suburban communities as they are in city neighborhoods. The Cook County Food Access Plan will create an even stronger county-wide response to ensure more of our neighbors have the nutritious food they need.”
In Cook County, one in six people receives assistance from the Food Depository’s network of partner agencies and programs. Last year, the Food Depository distributed 68 million pounds of food across the community, including 23.7 million pounds of fresh produce.
About the Greater Chicago Food Depository
The Greater Chicago Food Depository, Chicago’s food bank, is a nonprofit food distribution and training center providing food for hungry people while striving to end hunger in our community. The Food Depository, founded in 1979, makes a daily impact across Cook County with a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, mobile programs, children’s programs, older adult programs and innovative responses that address the root causes of hunger. Last year, the Food Depository distributed 68 million pounds of shelf-stable food, fresh produce, dairy products and meat, the equivalent of 155,000 meals every day. For more information, visit chicagosfoodbank.org or call 773-247-FOOD.