For siblings Martin, 15, Ano, 10, and James, 8, summer is a glorious, unending time of parks, the pool, and playdates. For their mom Elva Guervero, however, summer is a time of worry about feeding her family.
“During the school year, my kids eat breakfast and lunch at school, so I just have to make dinner,” Guervero said, adding that local food pantries help provide ingredients for her family’s dinners. When school lets out for the summer, she needs to provide two more meals a day for three growing kids, putting an extra strain on the family budget.
One Less Meal to Provide
To ease that stress, Guervero often takes her kids to LaVillita Park in Chicago’s South Lawndale neighborhood, where the Food Depository’s Lunch Bus makes a daily weekday stop throughout the summer months. LaVillita Park is one of 12 stops for the Lunch Bus, where we distribute meals and snacks to children under the age of 18.
For Guervero, the food is a huge help. “This is one less meal I have to provide at home,” she said as her kids sit on the grass to eat apple slices and yogurt.
Guervero and her husband do their best to support their family of five on his income as a car mechanic. “If I worked too, I’d have to pay a babysitter, and all the money would be gone,” she said. “But one paycheck isn’t enough.”
The family represents a difficult reality throughout Chicago, where 23 percent of households with children are food insecure, a number that climbs above 30 percent in communities of color.
“It’s expensive paying rent and buying clothes and shoes for growing kids,” Guervero said. “This helps.”
The Joy of Breakfast
Meanwhile, at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, nearly 60 children recently lined up by their classroom doors to receive a packaged breakfast and carton of milk. In addition to the meals we distribute through our summer Lunch Buses, the Food Depository also provides breakfast, lunch and snacks to children at nearly 150 community sites, including the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.
The meals we distribute through all of these sites are meant help alleviate rising food insecurity for children in the summer. In Illinois, of every 100 students who receive a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year, only 12 participate in a free summer meal program.
Hyde Park Neighborhood Club’s summer camp welcomes 6-year-olds through teenagers for their eight-week program. The camp includes crafts, games, activities, field trips and a daily breakfast and snack provided by the Food Depository.
Alex, 6, took his meal back to one of the child-size tables in the room, where he ate next to fellow day campers. He was delighted that the day’s breakfast included a muffin. It’s his favorite, and he was hungry.
Helping Local Families
Lyra Williams, program and operations manager for the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, estimates that 40 percent of the children in their summer camp rely on the food they receive there to supplement what’s available at home.
“Kids will run up and ask, ‘Do you have a second snack or breakfast?’” Williams said. “Kids have no shame asking for food if they’re hungry.” While some are simply endlessly hungry growing kids, Williams knows some of the families experience financial and food insecurity, which often intensifies in the summer.
“We offer scholarships to families who can’t afford to pay for camp,” she said, adding that refugees and asylum-seeking families living in their area attend for free. “We can only offer the scholarships because of the Food Depository’s support.
“The food you provide means everything. We’re a nonprofit and wouldn’t be able to provide meals on our own,” Williams said. “The food helps us, and it helps our families.”
Fueling Growing Bodies
At LaVillita Park Lunch Bus site, Magaly Castrejon helped her son, Adriel, 4, open his string cheese container, part of the meal he received from the Lunch Bus. His sister Aliyah, 7, sat next to him, drinking chocolate milk. They live nearby so the kids rode to the park on their scooters, with Castrejon walking alongside.
Castrejon works nights at Fed Ex to support her kids and Castrejon’s parents, who live with them. She receives SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, but said, “Sometimes it’s still hard to afford food. That’s why we come here.”
Suddenly her children were up again, whizzing around on their scooters. Watching her kids, whom she says don’t stay still for long, Castrejon said, “We really appreciate the food.”
Any family with children in need of summer meals can visit summerfeedingillinois.org or text FOOD or COMIDA to 304-304 to find a nearby meal site.