Catalyst Grantee Profile: Greater Chicago Food Depository

Greater Chicago Food Depository

Interview with Alexandra Funk, Senior Manager of Corporate & Foundation Relations, Greater Chicago Food Depository

Organization Name 
Greater Chicago Food Depository
Organization Website
Population Served 
The Food Depository provides food assistance and resources for long-term economic stability to residents of Cook County, IL.
Organization Location 
Chicago, IL
Founding Year 
Organization Mission 
The mission of the Greater Chicago Food Depository is “providing food for hungry people while striving to end hunger in our community.”
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique. 
Too many of our neighbors need help putting food on their table. Each year, more than 812,000 people in Cook County turn to the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s network for food. Hunger exists in every neighborhood in Cook County. It affects children, veterans, older adults and families. Despite a recovering economy, nearly one-third of Cook County residents live in low- income households. While the need is high, the Food Depository fights hunger every day, in every community.
The Food Depository believes that everyone should have access to the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, stable lives. To that end, the organization works with a network of 700 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and programs to fight hunger in Cook County. The Food Depository also addresses the root causes of hunger with a foodservice job-training program for underemployed and unemployed individuals called Chicago’s Community Kitchens. It connects low-income families to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other public programs, provides nutrition education and capacity building resources to a network of partners, and advocates for supportive nutrition policies.
The Food Depository’s network of partners provide food for our neighbors in need and implement programs tailored to serving our community’s most vulnerable populations. Beyond providing food assistance, the Food Depository’s network provides clients with additional access points to connect with supplementary social services, such as housing assistance, workforce readiness training or benefits access, ultimately bolstering clients’ abilities to become financially stable.
The Food Depository knows that fighting hunger is much more than just distributing food. The organization works to provide long-term solutions to end hunger by mobilizing the community’s voice through local, county, state and federal advocacy efforts.
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved?
In Fiscal Year 2018, the Food Depository’s network of member agencies and programs distributed more than 69 million pounds of food, one-third of which was fresh fruit and vegetables. Additionally, the network had more than 4.6 million duplicated visits through grocery programs and served nearly 5.7 million duplicated individuals through prepared meal programs.
In its nearly 40 years of operation, the organization has significantly expanded the scale of its operations while enhancing the quality of food distributed. For example, between 2001 and 2018 the Food Depository doubled the total pounds of food provided to those in need. Building on the increased distribution of healthy, perishable food items, the Food Depository is currently finalizing an organization-wide nutrition strategy to promote healthy food choices. This strategy underscores the importance of distributing nutrient-rich foods and supplements food distribution efforts with a variety of nutrition education and outreach resources to promote healthy choices.
At the same time, the Food Depository has recently partnered with large-scale systems to reach more individuals and families where they live and work. The Food Depository has built relationships with schools systems, higher education institutions, healthcare systems, Veterans Affairs hospitals, libraries, community centers, after school and summer programs, senior centers and residential buildings to support its community-driven approach to hunger relief. Key collaborations among the organization’s network of more than 700 community partners include: Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS), ACCESS Community Health Network, Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Public Libraries, Chicago Park District, Chicago Housing Authority and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them? 
For nearly 40 years, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has been a trusted leader in our community, providing food for our hungry neighbors. Over time, the need has changed and our programs have evolved. Increasingly, hunger affects children, working families, seniors and people with disabilities.
As the organization strengthens initiatives to serve additional individuals and families, the Food Depository monitors dynamic hunger trends in the community and provides recommendations that will inform future programmatic decisions. For example, the organization recently concluded a study of unmet needs for food assistance among people with disabilities. Key findings led to changes in distribution strategies to eliminate barriers to food access for this vulnerable population. The Food Depository’s Community Impact team is conducting training sessions across the program network on food issues for people with disabilities to raise awareness and improve service delivery.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field? 
The Food Depository will continue to strengthen community partnerships and implement tailored community-driven programming to both increase food access and address the long-term health challenges associated with food insecurity.
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field?
Ending hunger takes a community. There are many ways to get involved with the Food Depository’s mission.
Volunteer: Your time, talent and hard work make our daily response to hunger possible. Volunteer groups, families and individuals support our mission in a variety of ways. Volunteers play a crucial role in our work. Groups and individuals are welcome to join us at our warehouse and in the community.
Advocate: Raise your voice and take a stand against hunger. Encourage lawmakers to support policies that provide food for our neighbors in need.
Host a food drive: Collect canned goods at your school, office or event. Organize a virtual food drive and maximize your impact! Every item makes a difference for someone in need of a meal.
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals? 
The Food Depository deeply appreciates the generosity of community members, and cannot end hunger without the support of many. The best ways to help our organization accomplish its goals are by donating time or resources.
The generous support of donors makes an immediate impact on hunger in our community, ensuring the successful implementation of the organization’s hunger relief initiatives in Fiscal Year 2019. General operating investments allow the Food Depository to source and distribute healthy food where it is needed most, ensuring the specific dietary needs of clients from all backgrounds and the consistent availability of items that contribute to a wholesome diet.
The Food Depository’s virtual food drive platform also makes it easy to help Cook County families in need. With just a few clicks, you can purchase nutritious fresh produce and protein, start your own virtual food drive or host a traditional food drive. Thanks to the Food Depository’s wholesale purchasing power we’re able to provide 3 meals for every $1 donated – doubling or even tripling the amount of food your dollar can purchase at a regular grocery store.
The organization maintains a robust volunteer calendar; including twice daily repack sessions in the organization’s warehouse Tuesday through Saturday. These sessions are pivotal to carrying out the mission of the Food Depository, as they utilize the organization’s volunteer base to sort and repack products for distribution through the organization’s network of member agencies and community programs. Typical volunteer activities include gleaning fresh produce for quality and freshness and repacking bulk product such as cereal or rice into smaller portions for distribution.
Learn more here:

Selected Media Mentions
WBBM News Radio, “Newsmaker Making A Difference: Corry Simmons, Chicago’s Community Kitchens
Chicago Sun Times, “School’s out but free meals continue, thanks to Food Depository’s ‘Lunch Bus’”
Chicago Tribune, “‘I am able to eat because of this’: Produce trucks, farmers markets help solve Southland food deserts
ABC 7 Chicago, “Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteers key to fight against hunger”