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Hunger Beat

Food Depository AmeriCorps member helps shape, grow new agency

Alyssa DeLuca (kneeling in front) with other Food Depository AmeriCorps members.
Since 2009, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has been hosting AmeriCorps members through the AmeriCorps State/National Program. The individuals are placed at the Food Depository or in member agencies and are utilized to assist with day-to-day pantry operations, community volunteer recruitment and retention, fundraising and nutrition and health education. The following post is an update from AmeriCorps member Alyssa DeLuca, who is currently serving at the Coppin Community Center, a new Food Depository member agency in Washington Park.

As a Greater Chicago Food Depository AmeriCorps member, capacity building is the prime focus of my work at Coppin Community Center, as we respond to increased need in the Washington Park neighborhood.  On October 15, 2012, the day the pantry opened, we served nine clients. One year later on the same date, 76 clients visited the pantry. In January 2014, we saw as many as 128 clients in a single night. The need we see every week corroborates what the statistics show - which is that in Washington Park, the food insecurity rate is 45 percent. That means nearly half of the community's population doesn't know where their next meal is coming from. But numbers only tell part of the story.

Every Monday night, when our pantry is open, I see just how prevalent hunger is in Washington Park. I see the need on people’s faces, but I also see clients’ smiles when we greet them with large bags of food. Their smiles are the biggest when they receive extra meat or bread. And, despite the cold weather, the room fills with warm conversation. Every week I see new clients who look me in the eye and say, “Thank you all for doing this. It means so much to me.”

Lately, I have been registering about 30 new clients per week. In order to address the increasing need, we are expanding capacity through the Food Depository’s Food Rescue Program, which will provide an additional 1,500 pounds of fresh fruit, vegetables, and protein for us to distribute each week. This food will supplement the 2,000 pounds we typically order from the Food Depository each week.

In addition to more food, I am expanding Coppin’s volunteer base by streamlining the process for recruiting, training, managing and retaining volunteers. They’re crucial to the pantry’s operation and they foster a positive environment by treating both each other and the clients we serve with dignity, respect and kindness. Recently, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by opening our pantry volunteer positions to individuals and groups from all over the city.

The Coppin Community Center will continue to expand and I look forward to assisting with those efforts. For example, we plan to distribute a survey to our clients to determine exactly what type of services they need or prefer. We are also opening a new computer lab and library that will be available during our pantry hours for clients after they pick up their food. And in the future, we hope to offer an exercise program to get people moving along with nutrition education and services from health screenings to yoga classes.

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