Plan aimed at ending hunger in Cook County

By Paul Sassone For Chronicle Media


Cook County is joining with the Greater Chicago Food Depository for a new two-year plan to fight hunger. (Photo courtesy Greater Chicago Food Depository)

Cook County is joining with the Greater Chicago Food Depository for a new two-year plan to fight hunger. (Photo courtesy Greater Chicago Food Depository)

Hunger often is viewed as an urban affliction.

But, hunger’s tentacles reach into the suburbs as well.

Cook County officials say that of the 760,000 county residents that are food insecure, 30 percent (approximately 242,000) live in the suburbs. Food insecure is a term used to describe people who are not sure where their next meal is coming from.

“We have identified food insecurity as a critical issue facing thousands of residents throughout Cook County,” Toni Preckwinkle, county board president, said. “Hunger impacts every facet of life. And through this call to action — together with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and with the assistance of our health and hospital systems — we are determined to aggressively address this important issue.”

The two-year strategy, called the Cook County Food Access Plan, seeks to improve access to wholesome, nutritional food for food insecure children and adults.

Goals include:

  1. Expand food insecurity screening and referral systems at county health and hospital locations to increase patient access to community food resources. Food is medicine. Access to good nutrition is vital to prevention, treatment and recovery. A Canadian study found that annual health costs were 23 percent higher in households with marginal food insecurity, 49 percent higher for moderate food insecurity and 121 percent higher for severe food-insecure households.
  1. Create a Cook County Child Nutrition work group to increase student access to and participation in school breakfast and summer-meals programs. Adequate nutrition is necessary for children to learn and grow. Yet, in the 2013-14 school year only 28 percent of suburban children eligible for free and reduced-price meals participated in the breakfast program and 73 percent in the lunch program. And in 2014, only 4.4 percent of suburban children eligible or free or reduced-price summer meals participated.
  1. Grow the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and incentive programs at farmers markets and farm stands in Cook County to increase retail options to food insecure customers and increase sales for farmers markets and farm stands.

Because of high levels of food insecurity, the food access plan initially will concentrate on south suburbs — Ford Heights, Robbins, Phoenix, Harvey and Riverdale. These communities are 33 to 55 percent food insecure, compared to 19.2 percent for Chicago and 13.6 percent for the state of Illinois.

“The success of this plan depends entirely on the combined efforts of elected officials, public offices, private philanthropists, charitable organizations, schools, businesses and community members alike,” Preckwinkle and Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said in announcing the food access plan.

“Together we can envision the day when every person in Cook County has enough nutritious food to eat.”

Founded in 1979, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is a nonprofit food distribution and training organization. It works with a network of 650 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, mobile programs and programs for children and older adults.

To learn more about the Cook County Food Access Plan, contact the county at, or call (312) 443-5500. Contact the food depository at, or call 773-247-3663.

“Every morning , people across our community wake up not knowing if they will have enough food to eat,” Maehr said. “The consequences of food insecurity are as serious in suburban communities as they are in city neighborhoods. The Cook County Food Access Plan will create an even stronger county-wide response to ensure more of our neighbors have the nutritious food they need.”


— Plan aimed at ending hunger in Cook County —