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Hunger Beat

Alleviating veteran food insecurity at the Chicago Stand Down

Timothy Evans, 41, served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, 5 months and 18 days. He joined the Army when he was 18 years old and left in May of last year. “It was a real good experience,” he said of his time serving. “I learned discipline, and I felt that what I was doing was important because I was serving my country.”

Since leaving the military, Evans has struggled to stay afloat. He lives alone in subsidized housing, and he has yet to find work. He often visits the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center to receive resources, which is where he learned about the Chicago Stand Down.

A line of people standing in front of a table.

Food Depository volunteers set up tables full of food for the Stand Down.

Held every summer and winter, the Chicago Stand Down events help veterans who are unhoused, housing-insecure and in need by providing them access to goods and services, such as housing assistance, medical and mental health services, employment assistance, food and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance, veteran benefits assistance, haircuts, clothing, winter coats and more.

The events are organized by a committee of local nonprofits that’s led by Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital and Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, both long-time partners of the Food Depository. This coming Veterans Day, our partner food pantry at Hines VA will celebrate ten years of providing food to veterans.

A man and woman give food to another man.

A veteran picks out food to take home.

At a recent Chicago Stand Down, the Food Depository came equipped with 20 volunteers and a full truckload of canned foods, shelf-stable goods, snacks and fresh produce for the veterans to take home. A representative from our benefits outreach team shared with veterans about the benefits they’re eligible to receive and about our partner food pantries in their area.

“I’m grateful for all the things I’ve gotten today. They are going to make a big difference for me. Especially this fruit,” Evans said of the oranges he received at the Food Depository’s table. “I don’t get this where I live.”

In the United States, food insecurity rates among veterans are higher than the national average. According to Feeding America, approximately 1.5 million veterans live in households that rely on food assistance programs.

A man in uniform looks at the camera.

Former Marine Edward Castaneda volunteers at Stand Down events frequently.

“Events like the Stand Down show how real the need is,” said volunteer and former Marine Edward Castaneda, 58. “At the last Stand Down, we served almost 400 people. It makes a great difference for them, not only to receive the help, but to see the community coming together for them.”

Issa Saleh Umi, 77, a former Navy officer, gathered a bag of canned goods and fresh produce from the Food Depository table, thanking the volunteers and catching up with an old friend on his way out. Umi resides on the far south side and traveled almost two hours via bus to get to the Stand Down.

A man and a woman talking.

A volunteer helps Issa Saleh Umi gather his food.

 “It makes me feel proud to be here and to see that people care about us,” said Umi. “We as veterans have gone through a lot. We’ve seen a lot. So, it’s nice to come to the Stand Down and be together and feel appreciated. I’ve been coming to these things for 10 years.”

“It’s bittersweet to be here, because on the one hand, you have all these people coming together and making a difference, but on the other hand, it makes you see how many veterans need assistance,” said Castaneda. “It’s an honor to be here today and get to give back to these veterans that have given so much to us as Americans.”

A man looks at the camera.

Issa Saleh Umi expresses gratitude for the resources and food he received.

The Food Depository is grateful for the service of veterans like Timothy Evans and Issa Saleh Umi – and we are deeply thankful for the opportunity to serve veterans alongside our community partners.

Our support for veterans is only possible with the help of our donors. Help alleviate hunger for veterans and other neighbors.

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