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Hunger Beat

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Overcoming life's challenges


From left to right, Valeria, Guadalupe and Roberto received summer meals at a Lunch Bus stop in Chicago Heights.

This is the final entry in our yearlong series, 52 Stories, 52 Weeks. 

Life is full of challenges, bumps in the road. Some are larger than others, but what’s most important is how they’re overcome.

On a sunny, muggy day at Smith Park in Chicago Heights, 3-year-old Roberto and 7-year-old Guadalupe Alcala’s most pressing challenge was accidentally getting whacked in the face with a soccer ball.

While Guadalupe nursed her lip and Roberto rubbed his eye, the children’s mother silently faced overcoming a larger challenge: hunger.

“It’s really hard to make ends meet,” Maria said. “Food is starting to get really expensive. Two lemons cost $1. That’s too much.”

Maria is working part-time at a laundromat, while her husband works full-time in a lumber yard. Their monthly budget leaves little room for food.

“With my husband’s salary, it takes us two checks to pay our rent, and then we can use whatever is left for water, electric, phone bills,” she said.

While the family does receive SNAP benefits, their food budget becomes especially tight during the summer, since the children no longer eat breakfast and lunch at school.

That’s why Maria, Roberto, Guadalupe and 6-year-old Valeria were at Smith Park. They were waiting for the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus.

“The Lunch Bus provides my kids a place to play, and they get to eat lunch,” Maria said. “It provides a little bit of help.”

When the bus arrived, nearly 100 ecstatic children lined up to receive meals at the park.

“My favorite part of today’s lunch was the cheese,” Guadalupe said, a rope of string cheese hanging from both sides of her mouth.

“Mine was the muffin,” Valeria chipped in.

The Lunch Bus makes 21 stops on three different routes across Cook County every weekday during the summer, distributing meals with a sandwich, fruit and vegetables.

“This program doesn’t benefit just my kids. Everyone else’s kids benefit from this,” Maria said.

For Maria, the Lunch Bus provides the food her children need to stay healthy and active during the summer. It’s one way she’s overcoming hunger.

As for Roberto and Guadalupe, it didn’t take long to overcome their playground bumps. The redness quickly faded and the tears were wiped away. After finishing lunch, they picked themselves up and headed back into the park, arm-in-arm, carefree and ready to tackle another summer day.

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