Landmark new study reveals an unprecedented number in Chicago and Cook County seeking emergency food assistance

CHICAGO—Feb. 2, 2010—A landmark study released today by the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, reports that more than 678,000 people in Chicago and Cook County, including 250,000 children, receive emergency food each year. The findings represent a 36 percent increase since the findings reported in Hunger in America 2006.

Hunger in America 2010: Chicago Profile

Get a glimpse into the results of the Chicago and Cook County portion of the study with the Hunger in America 2010 executive summary or fact sheet (PDFs).

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Hunger in America 2010 is the first research study to capture the significant connection between the recent economic downturn and an increased need for emergency food assistance. The number of children and adults in need of food as a result of experiencing food insecurity has significantly increased.

In Chicago and Cook County, more than 44 percent of households with children are experiencing very low food security—or hunger; 26 percent of households without children are experiencing very low food security.

Each week, an estimated 142,400 men, women and children receive emergency food assistance from a food pantry, soup kitchen, or other agency served by the Greater Chicago Food Depository. This number was 88,000 in 2006. Nationally, more than one in three client households are experiencing very low food security—or hunger—a 54 percent increase in the number of households compared to four years ago.

An estimated 5.7 million people nationally receive emergency food assistance each week from a food pantry, soup kitchen, or other agency served by one of Feeding America’s more than 200 food banks, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository. This is a 27 percent increase over numbers reported in Hunger in America 2006, which reported that 4.5 million people were served each week.

“We have reached a new normal of much greater need in our community,” said Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “What we’ve learned over the past several years is that we will need to sustain higher levels of demand among men, women, children and the elderly for the foreseeable future. We must continue to respond by delivering high quality food and with programs that address the specific needs of children, older adults and those who are unemployed.”

Other Chicago findings include:

“It is morally reprehensible that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. “These are choices that no one should have to make, but particularly households with children. Insufficient nutrition has adverse effects on the physical, behavioral and mental health, and academic performance of children. It is critical that we ensure that no child goes to bed hungry in America as they truly are our engine of economic growth and future vitality.”

The methodology incorporated into the 2010 study includes data collected from February through June 2009. The Greater Chicago Food Depository conducted face-to-face interviews with 440 clients seeking emergency food at food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency feeding programs, as well as interviews with more than 503 agencies that provide food assistance.

Nationally, Feeding America collected quantitative and qualitative feedback from 61,000 face-to-face in-depth interviews with people seeking emergency food assistance and more than 37,000 agency surveys, making this study the largest, most-comprehensive ever conducted on domestic hunger.

USDA reported in November 2009 that an estimated 49 million people, including 17 million children, are at risk of hunger in this country. Hunger In America 2010 reinforces the dramatically increasing need for food assistance in the United States.

Of those the Greater Chicago Food Depository serves: