As an aspiring doctor, Angelika Kwak understands how regular access to nutritious food positively impacts a community’s health.
“I think it is my duty to learn more about the social determinants of health, and food insecurity is one of the big ones,” said the 22-year-old Oak Lawn native.
Kwak’s passion for service inspired her to join the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Hunger Action Corps. This AmeriCorps program provides members an opportunity to address food insecurity and its root causes throughout Cook County through hands-on work and professional development. Since 2009, nearly 130 people have completed their AmeriCorps service at the Food Depository.
Nourishing communities with fresh produce
Before pursuing her doctorate, Kwak decided to dedicate a year to learning about hunger in Chicago and its Cook County suburbs. As a college senior, Kwak grew deeply interested in widespread food insecurity as she learned more about its impact on public health.
“I didn’t realize how big of an issue it was, so I wanted to be on the ground actually working how to solve it,” she said.
On the Hunger Action Corps, Kwak is a health and nutrition coordinator. One of her main duties is assisting with the Food Depository’s FRESH Truck distributions. In partnership with Cook County Health, ACCESS Community Health Network and Chicago Department of Public Health, the FRESH Truck visits 19 community health clinics and provides free produce for patients and other community members in need. Participating patients have screened positive for food insecurity.
Working directly within the different communities has been one of the most rewarding parts of the work, Kwak said.
“It’s really nice being able to talk to them in English, Spanish, Polish, see how happy they are (and) teaching them about the different nutrition facts,” she said about those who visit the FRESH Trucks. “And then they get excited about all of the food and all of the meals they’re going to make later at home.”
Kwak is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public health at Loyola University and will soon also start medical school there. This experience will help influence her future practice, she said. Kwak hopes to open her own clinic that offers nutrition education and helps address some of the socioeconomic factors that contribute to one’s health, like food insecurity.
And the community members Kwak is supporting today, she noted, could one day be her patients.
“Having a better idea of where they’re coming from, what their resources are, (and) what they may need, will be very helpful for me to just have that different perspective and understanding,” Kwak said.