Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chicago Food Depository: 30 yrs serving the community

One of my favorite Chicago organizations, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, is celebrating 30 years of service. I am proud to have made my small mark on the long history of this phenomenal organization through volunteering at repacks, event steering committees, and financial donations. I encourage in the Chicago area to do the same! My favorite thing about GCFD (of which there are many) is the basic premise it was founded on...taking excess quality food and distributing it to hungry people. Reduce waste...feed the hungry. What could be more logical? Here is an excerpt from their history currently posted on their website at www.chicagosfoodbank.org :
The Greater Chicago Food Depository is commemorating its 30th anniversary in 2009. Six individuals—Ann Connors, Father Philip Marquard, Tom O'Connell, Gertrude Snodgrass, Ed Sunshine and Bob Strube—are credited with the founding of the organization, which was modeled after a food bank established in Phoenix in 1967. The organization was named “the Greater Chicago Food Depository,” rather than “Greater Chicago Food Bank” because of an Illinois statute that then prohibited the use of the word “bank” in the name of non-banking entities.

Bob Strube donated warehouse space for the fledgling organization at the historic South Water Market on the Near West Side. Mr. Strube, then president of Strube Celery & Vegetable Company, had been active in hunger-relief causes for many years. For years, he searched for a way to take unused produce and distribute it efficiently to hungry people.

“The poor would go and follow the garbage wagon [at the market] and pick food out,” Mr. Strube said.

The forerunner to the Food Depository was a food cooperative called Feed the Hungry, Inc. that distributed excess produce to low-income individuals for a nominal fee. The co-op, founded in 1970, included more than 20 pickup locations at churches and community centers. Mr. Strube had sketched out ideas for a distribution system as early as 1968.

“Food is real energy,” Mr. Strube said in 1979. “You need the right kinds of food in the right quantities just to have the energy to get up and go to work.”

The parallels between 2009, 1979 and even 1929 are striking.

“You might have your house all paid for, but you still have your taxes,” Mr. Strube said in 1979. “And you’ve got your heat and your electricity and your water bill. You have all these bills to pay and they’re all higher and they have to be paid. The only thing you can cut back on is food.”

The Food Depository has grown through the years—from 471,000 pounds of food and 85 member agencies in its first year to 46 million pounds of food and 600 member agencies last year—but all with the sobering backdrop of deep, continued need in the community. The Food Depository has seen a 33 percent increase in the number of people turning to pantries in the past year.

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