Food Depository's summer programs, including Lunch Bus, fill the gap when school is out

Every weekday, a brightly-colored sprinter van rolls up to the Belmont Cragin Library just after noon. And every day, Francisco Pacheco quietly breathes a sigh of relief as he sees the van come around the corner.

Francisco has three children, including a 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra. They each receive free meals during the summer from the Lunch Bus. “Because my children are getting food at the Lunch Bus, it helps me save for bus fare so I can take Alexandra to the doctor,” Francisco said. Francisco works part-time and his wife is working full-time at a bowling alley, but during the summer their small income isn’t enough to afford food for their three children. “It’s hard, but all the little things make a difference,” Francisco said.

“With only one full paycheck it’s not enough to keep our fridge full during the summer — The Lunch Bus helps feed my kids.”

- Francisco Pacheco

The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus distributed meals at 24 different stops throughout Cook County each weekday last summer. But the response to summer hunger extends far beyond the Lunch Bus. The Food Depository partnered with nearly 200 organizations, including public libraries, community centers, summer camps and more to distribute nutritious meals to children this summer. Overall, more than 550,000 meals were served. But providing meals is only half the battle. In Illinois, just 16 percent of eligible children were receiving summer meals. There’s an awareness gap that needs filling, and for the fourth summer in a row, the Food Depository worked to do just that through a partnership with another nonprofit, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). COFI staff canvassed three high-need neighborhoods: Belmont Cragin, Woodlawn and Chicago Lawn, distributing summer meals information and speaking to parents about summer meals programming in their area. “Kids should not have to go hungry,” said Charlene, a COFI summer meals ambassador. “That’s why we’re out here today.”