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Hunger Beat

The 1 in 5: A community institution

Rozenia, Jaliyah and Javon at the Union League Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park.
In our community, hundreds of thousands of children face hunger every day. But, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other organizations provide programs designed to fight childhood hunger.

On September 30, 2015, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization - the federal law that funds many of those programs - is set to expire.

Twice a month for the next year, we will be telling stories about the importance of those programs. These are the real stories of the 1 in 5 children in Cook County who face food insecurity.

After school, the Union League Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park is a buzzing hub of activity. Children of all ages play soccer or basketball in the gym, tap ping pong balls back and forth on table tennis courts, or study with textbook and pencil in hand.

For more than 20 years, children have been coming to the club after school. But they don’t just come for the activities or for a place to study.

“We’ve been here for a long time,” said Hector Perez, the club’s senior director. “We’ve also been a part of the Kids Cafe program since 2000.”

Kids Cafes - a part of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program - provide children with a nutritious meal after school at community centers, churches, and other organizations. In Humboldt Park, the child poverty rate is nearly 49 percent, which makes the Union League Club’s Kids Cafe a critical barrier to hunger among children in the area. Every day, the program provides more than 150 nutritious meals for children prepared by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Rozenia Barron, a long-time volunteer at the Union League, sees the meals’ impact every day – especially now that her two grandchildren are there after school.

“The meal helps their parents a great deal,” she said. “The children need healthy food, but that’s expensive. When their parents can’t afford it, they can still get it here.”

Five-year-old Jaliyah, Rozenia’s granddaughter, is happy to eat the healthy fruit and vegetables she gets at the Union League Club.

“My favorite food here is the vegetables. Even the peas!” she exclaimed. “And I like the pears, too.”

Her brother, Javon, is seven. He just started second grade and struggles with a learning disability.

“The meals he gets here help him stay focused,” Rozenia said.

After volunteering at the club for 20 years, Rozenia has seen plenty of children come and go. But there’s one thing many have in common.

“These kids are hungry,” she said. “But this place is like a community institution. Without it, I don’t know where a lot of these kids would go for a meal after school."

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