At USDA, we value the work of the many partners who administer and support our diverse and far-reaching nutrition assistance programs. In my hometown of Chicago, an inspiring group has been meeting year-after-year to ensure that child hunger in the metropolitan area and beyond is eliminated. In this post, Illinois Hunger Coalition’s Diane Doherty explains the important work this group performs.
By Diane Doherty, Executive Director, Illinois Hunger Coalition
On a perfect summer day in June, the Illinois Hunger Coalition joined the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Catholic Charities of Chicago, the Illinois State Board of Education and other members of the Chicago Summer Food Work Group for its annual summer meals kick-off event. The event, which is part of the work group’s efforts to raise awareness and increase participation in the summer meal programs, was held this year at Armour Square Park on Chicago’s South Side.
The work group, which meets year-round, brings together local and state-wide community organizations, governmental agencies, and sponsors from the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option (SSO), to strategize on ways to expand summer meals programs in the Chicago area. The group is also focused on ensuring children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, including African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, have access to summer meals at culturally-competent sites.
Members include the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Food Service Professionals, Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, Chicago Housing Authority, Greater Chicago Food Depository, and the Illinois No Kid Hungry Campaign.
In addition to the kick-off event, the work group also collaborates on outreach strategies and ways to overcome the challenges from the previous summer to ensure all children have access to nutritious meals at safe and trusted neighborhood sites. One of the ways we do this is by mapping out the locations of all the sites in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs to ensure sites do not overlap and are located in areas of need. Members of the work group also share information about the summer meal programs with their organization’s network, further increasing awareness of the programs across a variety of communities.
Although the summer is coming to an end, the work of the Chicago Summer Food Work Group never stops. The group will meet this fall to look at the successes and challenges of this year’s programs and is already planning for summer 2015.