CHICAGO—Responding to the needs of thousands of families struggling to put food on the table this winter, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced the Food for Families program, a $1 million hunger relief initiative that will provide 1.5 million pounds of food for an additional 37,500 families in need this fiscal year. Through this initiative, for the first time in Illinois history, state funds will be used to help food banks purchase food and help make up for insufficient federal support. The new program will provide enough food for 3,090 meals per day for Illinois families in need.
“Hunger is a year-round crisis for thousands of families who can’t make ends meet and put enough food on the table for themselves and their children,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Unfortunately, the organizations that are working to feed the hungry in our communities face bigger challenges this year because prices are on rise and the federal and private support they’ve counted on in the past is not meeting the increasing need for food. That’s why we’re announcing a new state program that will help food banks across Illinois meet the needs of thousands of struggling families throughout the year.”
With food prices constantly rising and decreased federal support for food banks, the Governor also announced that as part of next year’s budget, he will propose $5 million in funding for the Food for Families program. This additional money will allow food banks in Illinois to buy 7 million pounds of food, and help 175,000 households get the food they need. The additional funding will also include $300,000 in grants to food pantries to help them purchase equipment to stock fresh fruits and vegetables.
Nearly 500,000 children in Illinois are hungry. Children make up about 35% of those that receive food from food banks. Also, almost 40% of households served by Illinois food banks are households with one or more working adults.
Food banks in Illinois currently receive food donations through local food companies, food drives, and the federal government. But, these sources have been negatively impacted because federal support provided through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is not keeping pace with demand. In addition, surplus products provided by the USDA have decreased as have product donations from food manufacturers. This decreased supply comes at a time when the demand for emergency food assistance is increasing in the country and in some Illinois communities.
“We are so grateful for Gov. Blagojevich’s support of Illinois’ food banks,” said Kate Maehr, president of the Illinois Food Bank Association and executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “Food banks have seen an increase in demand while enduring a diminished supply of food. This terrific response stocks our shelves with approximately 1.5 million pounds of food and ensures that food will be available for the hundreds of thousands of hungry Illinoisans who will turn to us this year.”
America’s Second Harvest recently conducted an analysis of the USDA data, in partnership with the USDA, specifically around childhood hunger and found that in Illinois there are 497,911 hungry children. About 15.4 percent of Illinois’ children could benefit from food donations provided by local food banks and pantries.
Last year, the state’s eight food banks provided services to 900,000 through a network of 2,000 pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. In Cook County alone, almost a half-million people, children and adults, rely on food provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a member of the Illinois Food Bank Association (IFBA). These local food banks are facing difficult choices as the food shortages continue through the holiday season.
“Food banks have to increase their food purchasing in order to continue to provide the quality, nutritious food that the low-income families need,” said IDHS Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D. “This increased need for food purchasing is why the Governor’s establishment of the Food for Families Program is so important and timely.”
As partners in the program, the IFBA will be able to purchase food for each of the food banks in the state. When purchasing food, preference will be given to Illinois manufacturers and growers. Funding will also be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables that are usually cost prohibitive for low-income families. The food will be distributed to each IFBA food bank based on the same allocation percentage used to allocate federal food resources. The food banks will then monitor all member agency food pantries, soup kitchens, and other emergency food programs to ensure nutritious food is delivered to the families who need it most.
“This new funding represents a significant show of support for a statewide hunger-relief strategy in Illinois,” said Pam Molitoris, executive director of the Central Illinois Foodbank. “The Food for Families Program will allow us to serve more people during a time when demand is high and costs are rising.”
If Illinoisans want to donate food or money, volunteer, or are hungry themselves, they can call the Greater Chicago Food Depository at 773-247-FOOD, or visit the website of the Illinois Food Bank Association at www.feedingillinois.org