Chicago has to be one of the most vibrant and impressive cities in America. Lots of amazing buildings and culture and great restaurants…
Oh yeah, great restaurants, that won’t be of much relevance to a food stamp tourist like myself. I was in the city for three days for meetings of the National Advisory Council of Feeding America (the nationwide network of 202 food banks) which meets five times a year to help make a success of our food security efforts both on a local level (of getting as much food and support as possible in our direction) and on a national level (sourcing food, training and advocating to protect food stamps, federal commodities and the like). Also I wanted to check out the food stamp situation in a big city.
We had great discussions, working on issues like the contract that binds food banks together, issues of diversity, food sourcing and all manner of complex issues. Still, everyone had a delicious mexican lunch to keep their brain working…
That’s right, everyone except me. Despite the suggestions of some readers of this blog, I didn’t take advantage of all the free food that was offered to me, so as to make the Food Security Challenge more realistic. I had one free cooked dinner on Monday, because I had been flying and traveling all day and had virtually nothing to eat and was about to collapse. I got to Chicago late and couldn’t buy any food. I also took one free sandwich on one of the other days. Otherwise I existed on soup and sandwiches, like below:
Still, even the cheapest sandwich I could find, for $3.69 still blew my budget of figuring $2 per meal per day. I made it because I skipped breakfast. But being without the food I had amassed at home was a huge problem. I couldn’t buy a bunch of stuff that I wouldn’t be able to bring back on the plane, and so waste. So I had to sandwich it.
That is until my last day, when I visited the Marillac Center Food Pantry on Chicago’s West Side. I was interested in seeing how the level of services would compare from SB to Chicago.
The Marillac Center has been around for a hundred years providing services and a place to meet for the local community. The Food Pantry serves about 1200 families per month representing over 4100 individuals. It’s open 3 days per week for a couple of hours. Clients can only come once a month.
The good thing is that it has a waiting area where people can congregate until it is their turn to visit the pantry. In this area they will have blood pressure screenings and cooking demonstrations (though nothing was happening when I visited).The waiting area is great, because in Chicago in January, it SNOWS and everyone would freeze to death while they were waiting. Or maybe just wimpy west coasters like me would freeze. Anyway I was glad not to find out.
They let about 6 shoppers into the pantry area at one time.
And there are volunteers to help with your shopping which is what is called client choice, which means that you can choose what you want from a selection of items.
The amount you can receive is also based on family size. The food is provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository and includes pasta, beans, meat, vegetables, canned goods, bread and some dairy. As a single person I would be able to get enough food for maybe 4-5 days. My trouble was that in a strange town with no cooking facilities I wouldn’t be able to eat too much. (As in SB, I didn’t actually take the food, but bought an equivalent). So I was able to get some soup, which I heated up in my hotel room.
I would say that the level of services is broadly similar in Chicago – less fresh produce obviously, and more need for a lot of hot food to stop you freezing.
In my next post I’ll give people an update on where I am with my money and my meals.
It’s good to be back in sunny Santa Barbara!