Monday, August 9, 2010

Fighting Hunger with Three Days To Go

(In a grocery store, this table of food would cost $63.
If obtained through the Greater Chicago Food Depository programs? $5.41)

So here's the thing. In all of the hooplah of throwing together such a large event with an overwhelming cast of chefs, it's easy to loose sight of what this event is all about. Who are the recipients of the money raised? How much food does your ticket buy for a family? How many kids are impacted by this one event? Internally at Taste of the Nation we call the answers that reveal what's beneath the surface of these questions, Hunger Messaging—and our own Chuck Sudo is the Bruce Wayne of Hunger Messaging. Next Thursday night, you'll see Hunger Messaging all around you.

But we're not talking decorations and fancy words that might convince you to throw in some extra money because that's what you're supposed to do—we're talking serious issues that just aren't forward enough on our consciousness. Take a look:
  • In Chicago, 1 in 4 children are food insecure.
  • 82 percent of Chicago Public School Students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
  • The Greater Chicago Food Depository distributed 62 million pounds of food to pantries and shelters throughout the Chicago area last year.
  • 780,000 Illinois families received food stamps in June 2010, an 11.9 percent increase over June 2009.
  • Over 200,000 children in Chicago live in "food deserts."
And this is barely a fraction of the messaging Chuck has put together for us. But I'm treading a fine line here when I group these messages together and use phrases like "barely a fraction." I remove the reality, the weight of what's being said in each message.

Think about it. In Chicago, 1 in 4 children are food insecure.

How many kids are on a youth baseball team? A ballet class? 1 in 4 is a dangerous ratio that hits far too close to home for all of us, and yet I think we don't see it. Did you have any idea that nearly 800,000 families received food stamps this June? Let alone that it's an almost 12% increase from the year before? What a painful blow to the goals of Share Our Strength—which is to wipe out childhood hunger by 2015.

2015. That's pretty darn soon.

And yet, we're not backing down from this goal. That top photo to this post is pretty staggering when you take in how much those groceries cost you and I when we shop at the super market. Because, for us, $63 makes a lot of sense. That's not staggering. It's the impact that organizations like the Greater Chicago Food Depository have on communities that have my jaw continually dropping the more involved I get with Share Our Strength. To think that those groceries could cost a family just $5.41—well, there's some difference making going on there. Big time.

And then there's Near North Health Services, another beneficiary of Taste of the Nation. Their Operation Frontline participants are taught how to shop for groceries on a budget, utilizing the most with minimal resources—the Chicagoist's Megan Tempest wrote a great feature on this program last May. 

(A common site in Chicago of an abandoned market via Chuck Sudo)

And as markets continue to close in Chicago, the food stamps that are given out to help families through this tough time become less and less helpful. In his research leading up to Taste, Chuck's unearthed this problem. It increases the need and demand for the $5.41 assistance that the Greater Chicago Food Depository provides, which increases the need for further assistance from donors and events by the surrounding community. Hence, Taste of the Nation is as important as ever this year.

Because what Chuck's seen is that as the grocery stores close, families turn to corner convenience stores for their food—where they can buy liquor, cigarettes, and whatever processed foods are available at these stores as their nutrition, and in that order. They're using their food stamps to buy junk food.

(A main grocery source for much of Chicago via Chuck Sudo)

Taste of the Nation is as big as it is because the battle we're fighting requires it. These organizations won't continue to make an impact without our support.

Sure. There are still free tickets to be had as the days tick away leading up to the event—but if you've just been waiting for the right moment, unsure to buy or to wait for another shot at a give away, well don't you think that right moment is now?

Come next Thursday in this little town of ours, for those few hours, there won't be a greater gathering of food and drink in the world. Think about that—which, my friends, is saying something.

Buy your tickets. Write them off. And get your tushy over to what might just be one of the most unforgettable moments of your life. And help us start hitting the delete button on our Hunger Messaging, bit by bit, in the process, yeah?

There are 800,000 families waiting to thank you.

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