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Hunger Beat

Volunteers address food insecurity on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, hundreds of people from across Chicago made their way to the Food Depository in below-zero-degree weather to honor the legacy of Dr. King by volunteering to help their neighbors experiencing food insecurity.

Volunteers from Chicago-based organizations Cubs Charities, the Obama Foundation, and the Magnificent Mile Chapter of Jack and Jill of America came together at the Food Depository to repackage apples and pinto beans into family-size portions. These were delivered in the following days to our partner food pantries, soup kitchens and other meal programs to distribute to families and individuals.

For the second year in a row, Cubs Charities celebrated MLK Day of Service by bringing their Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) teams to the Food Depository to reinforce to the young players the values of teamwork and civic engagement.

Three boys from the Cubs RBI teams fill bags and boxes of apples.

Cubs RBI players work together with their teammates to feed their neighbors.

The RBI Program is a youth outreach program providing athletes from inner cities with access to participate in free baseball and softball travel teams. They work to ensure the success of the players, not only through sport, but through academic achievement, teamwork, and giving back to their communities.

“We’re all here because we want to give back,” said RBI player Anthony Visinaiz, 16, who has been with the team for three years.

“You can feel Dr. King’s presence here because you see all these people of different races and ethnicities coming together as family and being able to give back to the community.”

Cubs Charities has been a partner of the Food Depository since 2020, when Wrigley Field was transformed into a food pantry during the early days of the pandemic. Since then, the group has focused on food insecurity, generously contributing more than 1,789 hours of service, 160,000 meals and several donations to help ensure none of their neighbors go hungry.

Also returning to roll up their sleeves was the Obama Foundation, who has inspired supporters to participate in repacks with the Food Depository since 2019. This year, led by CEO Valerie Jarrett, the Obama Foundation rallied over 100 supporters, including volunteers from ComEd, Northern Trust and more to lend a helping hand.

Michael Strautmanis, Kate Maehr, and Valerie Jarrett pose for a picture together in the Food Depository's volunteer orientation room.

Food Depository CEO, Kate Maehr, with Michael Strautmanis and Valerie Jarrett from the Obama Foundation.

Wanting to inspire the younger generation of leaders, the Obama Foundation invited guests to bring their children, to encourage in them the value of giving back to their communities.

“It didn’t matter what anybody looked like, (Dr. King) was still there for them and uplifted them,” said volunteer Idalia Vivar. “We’re here with our families, giving back to the community because that’s what it’s all about.”

Also in attendance were members of the Magnificent Mile chapter of Jack and Jill of America, an organization of mothers with children ages 2-19, dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders. Mothers brought their children to the Food Depository to embrace the organization’s values of volunteer service and civic duty.

Makenzie Ward, 11, was one of those children. She was excited to participate in the repacking activities. “It’s great that a lot of people care about Martin Luther King and the justice and peace that he gave the world,” she said. “I feel really good that we’re giving back to the community in his honor.”

Jack and Jill member Makenzie Ward takes a break from repacking beans to pose for a photo in the repack room.

Makenzie Ward was grateful to be honoring the legacy of Dr. King.

The Food Depository is incredibly grateful to the nearly 300 volunteers who braved the cold to participate in this year’s special Day of Service repack. In total, the volunteers from all three groups packed 36,792 pounds of food, or the equivalent of 30,660 meals, that have been delivered to our partner pantries, soup kitchens and other meal programs.

Their contributions are already making an impact in our communities, helping to ensure that our neighbors throughout Chicago and Cook County get the nourishment they need.

A woman and three children scoop dry beans into individual bags.

Member of Jack and Jill work hard to repack beans that will be distributed to neighbors.

In the words of Dr. King: “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” We’re grateful to these volunteers for choosing to honor Dr. King by joining us to serve our neighbors and working toward a greater, hunger-free Chicago.

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