Feeding the hungry grows all the more difficult during a pandemic

Chicago area residents wondering where their next meal will come from and turning to pantries and kitchens are nothing new. But the coronavirus pandemic has made things much worse.

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Volunteers help break down and repackage food at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The coronavirus has put food banks throughout the United States in a nightmare position. They are dealing with higher demand, declining donations and fewer people who can volunteer.

Locally, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is bracing for a loss of volunteers because of this fall’s big surge in COVID-19 cases and the city’s new stay-at-home advisory.

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In the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the food depository distributed more than 93 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 77.5 million meals. It was by far the most food the depository has distributed in its 41-year history.

“There is an increase in need,” Greg Trotter, spokesman for the depository, told the Sun-Times. “With winter coming and the pandemic raging on, we are very worried.”

The Greater Chicago Food Depository serves a network of more than 700 food kitchens, shelters and pantries, organizations that this fall are providing food to 50% more people each month than they were in January.

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Tens of thousands of Chicago area residents have long experienced food insecurity and depended on food kitchens and pantries. That is not new. But the pandemic, which has caused unemployment rates to soar, has greatly added to the problem. In Chicago, the unemployment rate was 13.8% in September, more than triple the 3.7% rate back in January.

According to an analysis by Feeding America, Chicago and Cook County rank third in the nation, behind only Houston and Los Angeles, for the number of people — an estimated 798,130, including 256,800 children — who live in food-insecure households. That means they’re not sure where their next meal’s coming from.

How can you help? You might want to donate money to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Or you might want to volunteer to stack cans, pack boxes and the like — in a pandemic-safe environment involving masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing.

To make a donation or sign up, go to: https://www.chicagosfoodbank.org

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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