As a single parent, Denise Salinas struggles to make ends meet.
The 35-year-old medical assistant has a son in sixth grade at Northwest Middle School in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood. And when it comes to buying food, she said, it seems like everything is increasing in price.
On a recent afternoon right before classes let out, she visited the school’s Healthy Student Market to gather some fresh fruits and vegetables with her mother, Eleodora.
“This helps put food on the table for my boy,” said Salinas. “It’s definitely a big help.”
Salinas represents one of the many working families at Northwest Middle who turn to the Healthy Student Market for some extra support. In partnership with Chicago Public Schools and suburban Cook County school districts, the Food Depository has 36 Healthy Student Market sites offering free fresh fruits and vegetables for students’ households. Markets are also held on local City Colleges of Chicago campuses.
Northwest Middle School’s market is offered twice a month during the school year and serves an average of 195 families per distribution.
The produce tables were set up on the stage connected to the school’s gymnasium. Though the curtains were drawn, the chattering of kids in gym class and the squeaking of their sneakers on the wooden floor served as the pleasant background noise for those picking up food and other goods.
Dolores Lopez has visited the Healthy Student Markets since her now-teenage son was in preschool. The 33-year-old mom of two, ages 13 and 8, said it helped after she stopped working several years ago to stay at home with her kids. Her husband works full-time as a dock worker.
Today, Lopez works part-time as a caregiver, but she says that the market continues to be a big blessing in providing for her family. She also shares some of the fresh produce with the elderly woman she tends to.
“It’s perfect,” Lopez said of the offering. “We don’t need more.”
Access to healthy food takes ‘quite a load off’
Not everyone who came through was a parent. Eric and Edwin Arteaga, older brothers of a 13-year-old at the school, were picking up groceries for their family. Both currently attend college. Eric, 22, goes to Wilbur Wright College and works at Walmart when he’s not in class. He hopes to go into nursing. Edwin, 21, attends Northeastern Illinois University, where he studies psychology.
Their parents both work full-time jobs, but the family income isn’t enough to offset rising costs, particularly when factoring in college tuition, Eric Arteaga said. The Healthy Student Market at Northwest Middle is “very helpful, honestly,” he said.
“Getting good healthy food on the table honestly is getting very expensive,” Eric Arteaga said. “This takes quite a load off.”