A child eats a meal at a Kids Cafe in Pilsen.

“To me, this is a moral imperative. All children should have the food they need.”

Michele Zurakowski is passionate about feeding children. She’s a Greater Chicago Food Depository Champion Advocate and the executive director of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, a Food Depository partner agency.

“We have to make sure that we feed the children who are going to be the future of our country,” she said.

Michele has been to Washington, D.C. and Springfield a number of times to advocate for children’s programs. Most recently, she attended Lobby Day with the Food Depository in May and went to Washington in March.

In Washington, she was part of a group advocating for a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which funds children’s programs including school breakfast, lunch and summer meal programs, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization is set to expire September 30. Michele knows the impact those programs have, as half of the households the pantry serves includes a child.

“I see people coming to the pantry who are trying to do everything they can to make things right for their family and it’s motivating,” she said. “Without programs like school breakfast and lunch it would be hard for families.”

The U.S. Senate recently postponed a discussion on its version of the bill and the U.S. House has yet to announce plans for a Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill.

In the meantime, the Food Depository is advocating for the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act and the Summer Meals Act. These bills include priorities that could be incorporated into the final Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

If the House and Senate don’t approve a bill by September 30, the deadline to reauthorize the legislation could be extended to October 31.

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