By: Kenzie Berggren
Fresh cookies and other baked goods seem to float across the store, pulling me in to at least have a small taste. There are sushi platters, magnificent cakes, and foods that are allergy friendly lining the counters as I drop item after item in my environmentally friendly shopping bag—of which I’ll pay for at the register and keep for future purchases. I’m excited to go home and cook these enticing foods knowing they will fuel my body in a healthy way for as long as needed until I come back for my next shopping trip.
Standing in line to get groceries is an entirely different experience when you aren’t watching every individual item scanned and dropped back into the cart silently calculating if something needs to be put back.
These times are much harder. When I try to do the math—adding the right amount for taxes, hoping the food I can afford won’t make me sick—I wait. As much as I want to go to the health food store because it will be better for my body, and theoretically will help me save money by being able to buy in bulk, I know this is not an option right now. I search for the best deals, knowing I have to travel and make a whole day trip to get the food I need because I also don’t have reliable transportation beyond the bus that (hopefully) comes by after I check out and not right before. When I get home, I try to measure out my food to see just how far it will stretch and see what nights I need to ask around and hopefully get a meal from someone close to me without having to humiliate myself in the process. I hope a week from now I can do this all again, but since it won’t be a payday week that’s unlikely. My stomach contracts at the thought knowing that familiar pain and wishing more than anything this constant worry wasn’t at the forefront of my every conversation.
I have been both of these people in my life. Food insecurity can be a single experience, episodic, or can be ongoing.2 Hunger is not a single face issue, and according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository one in seven people in Cook County will experience food insecurity this year. Food insecurity, defined as,” the condition where people cannot reliably access adequate, nutritious food,” impacts various populations all over the country in every single county and every single congressional district.[1, 2] Those who struggle with food insecurity struggle to avoid hunger, whether due to financial hardship or other conditions. In Cook County especially, it is well known how important the zip code you live in is to many facets of your life. The Greater Chicago Food Depository serves many Chicago residents across Cook County, and food insecurity varies greatly across communities. In some neighborhoods, more than half of all residents are food insecure.2
With such high numbers, you’d think the conversation would be much louder. We all know eating is a necessity of life; yet, we stigmatize and pathologize those who are in need. Food insecurity looks like children and it looks like the elderly. It looks like veterans, people with disabilities, and the working poor. Food insecurity looks like college students, like healthy young families, and like your next door neighbor.[1, 2] Being food insecure does not necessarily mean that a person is able to qualify for federal nutrition assistance programs, and those in need are often stuck facing hard decisions between paying for food and other expenses—like medical bills.2 According to the Move for Hunger, there are 1,658,280 people in Illinois alone that experience food insecurity.1 It would take 296,297 school buses just to hold all of our country’s hungry kids.1
Chicago HOPES for kids works to help our kids achieve their best academically and improve their literacy, even in times of emotional or personal struggle. While it is a myth that food insecurity only impacts the homeless population, it greatly impacts the working poor and those who are working so hard to maintain their level of comfort. Let alone trying to attain upward mobility, people are struggling just to survive. The families we help may soon find themselves in this situation, even when it seems like the worst could be behind them when permanent housing is attained.
To understand what it feels like to make such hard decisions and to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, I encourage everyone to complete this poverty simulation by Spent: http://playspent.org/html/. There are different choices so you may not see each option the first time through. I challenge you to make it the entire month in the simulation—and be happy with the choices you made to get there. This past month, on September 11th’s Day of Service, our AmeriCorps members from HOPES traveled to Union Station to help pack lunches. Along with many other volunteers across the city, our members helped to pack 305,000 lunches to give back to the community. These lunches are going to help a huge number of people, but what about the people it doesn’t reach? That’s where you come in. September is Hunger Action Month, and gifts to the Greater Chicago Food Depository are doubled through September 30th. You can always volunteer—at your local food bank or soup kitchen—and there are plenty of nonprofits around the city that would love your help and support. To learn more about what impacts those who are experiencing food insecurity and other hunger related struggles, I encourage you to look through some of the additional resources given in this article. I also encourage you to learn more about your local policies affecting those struggling, and to do what you can to help those in need. It could happen to any of us, and we would all want a healthy dose of compassion.
If you or someone you know is struggling with food insecurity, please go to https://www.chicagosfoodbank.org/find-food/ to locate your local food pantry and access services through the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
To learn more about SNAP benefits and debunk many myths, check out https://advanced-hindsight.com/blog/managing-month-food-stamps/.
Move for Hunger. (n.d.) “Hunger and Homelessness.” Retrieved from https://www.moveforhunger.org/hunger-and-homelessness/?location=il.
Greater Chicago Food Depository. (n.d.) “Hunger Across Our Community.” Retrieved from https://www.chicagosfoodbank.org/hunger-in-our-community/.
Weber, A. (March 14, 2019). “Five Myths About Hunger.” Feeding America. Retrieved from https://www.feedingame