WBEZ | food pantries http://www.wbez.org/tags/food-pantries Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en A Forest Park vet struggles to keep others out of homelessness http://www.wbez.org/news/forest-park-vet-struggles-keep-others-out-homelessness-105502 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F79127553&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>When I met Homer Bizzle in his tiny food pantry in west suburban Forest Park, the lights were off.</p><p>Even though the pantry, called America Cares Too, had been open all day, Bizzle said the darkness was typical.</p><p>&ldquo;We just trying to conserve lights, cause, non-profit, you know,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Bizzle started the service project for vets and their families in 2011 after leaving the Army Reserves. He&rsquo;s been running the project on volunteer labor and financing it with small donations and cash out of his own paycheck.</p><p>&ldquo;I just wanted to give back to my fellow veterans and their families,&rdquo; Bizzle said.</p><p>By day, the 33-year-old native of the Austin neighborhood is an advocate for people with disabilities. In the evenings, he heads over to the his spare storefront on W. Harrison St. to meet up with the vets who come here seeking support.</p><p><strong>The battle at home</strong></p><p>In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama announced that 34,000 troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year. That&rsquo;s a little over half the remaining troops in what most consider America&rsquo;s longest war.</p><p>But when they get here, many military vets face new, even longer battles - battles with trauma and homelessness. Many come home with mental or physical disabilities, and all come home to a slouching economy. Unemployment among veterans is higher than the national average, and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/discrimination-against-our-countrys-heroes-103510" target="_blank">veteran status itself can be a stigma in a job search</a>. One in three men living on the streets is a veteran (although <a href="http://www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/USICH-_Report_to_Congress_on_Homeless_Veterans.pdf" target="_blank">those numbers have declined in recent years</a>). And a recent study estimates that 22 vets commit suicide every day in the U.S.</p><p>All of this is familiar to Bizzle.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7008_009-scr.JPG" style="float: right; height: 169px; width: 320px;" title="The America Cares Too storefront in Forest Park (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>&ldquo;Some of them suffer from PTSD, some anxiety, some have flash backs, shell shock...&rdquo; Bizzle said of the vets he serves.</p><p>While the VA does offer mental health services, Bizzle said traumatized vets who don&rsquo;t feel they can trust the government aren&rsquo;t left with many options.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s kinda hard for a soldier that&rsquo;s coming off active duty to get those kinda treatments in the civilian world because everything costs money, unfortunately,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>He believes the best solutions can come from veterans themselves.</p><p>&ldquo;No offense to politicians but they don&rsquo;t understand the veterans situation, and by me being a veteran I could understand our own situation, the problems we deal with,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The main room at America Cares Too contains a donated TV and a desk with no phone (Bizzle uses his cellphone to run the project because the ComEd bill was too high).</p><p>Three computers sit on folding tables donated by a recovery group that meets next door. And in the back there&rsquo;s a spare office where Bizzle keeps vets&rsquo; files. The walls are lines with boxes of donated toys and socks and underwear purchased with TJ Maxx and Target gift cards. Bizzle&rsquo;s appeals to local government bodies and the VA for financial support <a href="http://austintalks.org/2013/01/former-austin-resident-starts-veterans-nonprofit/" target="_blank">have been unsuccessful so far</a>.</p><p><strong>A chronic lack of support</strong></p><p>This month Esquire reported that the Navy Seal who shot Osama Bin Laden is jobless and living without health insurance. The headline: <a href="http://www.esquire.com/features/man-who-shot-osama-bin-laden-0313" target="_blank">&ldquo;The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden...Is Screwed.&rdquo;</a> Although Esquire&rsquo;s story can&rsquo;t be independently verified - the man in question chose to remain anonymous for his own safety - it reflects a widespread disappointment in the services provided by the state for vets, especially younger vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of &ldquo;the shooter,&rdquo; as he&rsquo;s called in Esquire, the Navy Seal retired after 16 years of service. That meant no pension, and no more health care for his family. The cutoff point for long-term support is 20 years of service.</p><p>Bizzle&rsquo;s located just a couple miles from the Hines VA Hospital, which helps thousands of vets each year. The Hines complex includes housing for homeless vets, and a network of social service providers. I called them to ask how a vet would end up at a little joint like Bizzle&rsquo;s.</p><p>&ldquo;I think the predominant reasons are, there are a small cohort of veterans who just do not want to be in any system,&rdquo; said Anthony Spillie, the head of social work at Hines.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS7009_015-scr.JPG" style="height: 214px; width: 380px; float: left;" title="Homer Bizzle reorganizes his small food pantry for veterans. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />There are an estimated 18,000 homeless vets in the greater Chicago area, and he says that despite offering extensive services, some people just fall through the cracks. Groups like Bizzle&rsquo;s can help catch them.</p><p>&ldquo;There is no wrong door approach,&rdquo; Spillie said. &ldquo;You know most of the time you think of accessing services through the front door. Well, we&rsquo;ll open whatever door we can possibly open for veterans to end and treat their homelessness.</p><p>Bizzle wants to hire veterans to be case workers and counselors, and one day turn his own Bellwood home into a transitional housing center for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-27/returning-home-presents-different-challenges-female-veterans-89707" target="_blank">female vets</a>.</p><p>But the lack of support is frustrating - and so is seeing what his fellow vets go through.</p><p>&ldquo;It be times I wanna throw that uniform in the garbage,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Follow <a href="https://twitter.com/LewisPants" target="_blank">Lewis Wallace on Twitter</a>.</p></p> Wed, 13 Feb 2013 10:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/forest-park-vet-struggles-keep-others-out-homelessness-105502 Cook County food pantries report record need http://www.wbez.org/news/cook-county-food-pantries-report-record-need-105023 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Foodpantry1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s food pantries see the city&rsquo;s growing hunger problem up close.</p><p>&ldquo;You see people lining up before the sun rises even on these coldest days of the year, and waiting, you know, in some cases two, three, four hours,&rdquo; said Bob Dolgan of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Cook County&rsquo;s largest food bank.</p><p>He said in October 2012, their food pantries had more than 550,000 visits - a record number (they don&rsquo;t have numbers yet for more recent months). Over five years, the organization has seen an 84 percent increase in monthly visits to its 650 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F75374196" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>That&rsquo;s probably because the number of people in poverty in the area is on the rise. A recent <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/one-three-illinois-residents-or-near-poverty-according-heartland-alliance-report" target="_blank">report by the Heartland Alliance</a> found one in three people in Illinois live in or near poverty, and many of those work full-time. A lasting decline in mid-wage jobs that have been replaced by <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-study-low-wage-workers-chicago-are-older-more-educated-102686" target="_blank">low-wage jobs</a> since the 2009 recession is likely a factor.</p><p>&ldquo;Soup kitchens are volunteer-run organizations,&rdquo; Dolgan said. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re doing everything they can to support their communities, but when there are just more and more people at their doors, either they have to pack smaller bags or they have to look at the number of hours they&rsquo;re able to operate.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Below: A report from a food pantry line in Rogers Park</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F75498697" width="100%"></iframe><br /><br />To make matters worse, the depository has been receiving less food donations. A combination of drought and lingering recession means corporations, wholesalers and distributors are giving less. Drought devastated crops across the Midwest this year, and a major produce source here ended up with far less surplus through the summer.</p><p>Most of the depository&rsquo;s food supply comes from donations &ndash; and luckily, said Dolgan, individual giving has not taken the dive that corporate giving has. Still, the depository has received 3 million pounds less donated food over the last six months than the same period a year ago, a decrease of about 9 percent.</p><p>They&rsquo;re making up the difference by purchasing food directly, but it&rsquo;s hardly a sustainable plan. The organization&rsquo;s depends on that cash to keep its basic operations afloat.</p><p>&ldquo;We have a lot of trucks we need to fuel, we have thirty-nine vehicles that need to be ready and leave this facility each day,&rdquo; said Dolgan. &ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a challenge.&rdquo;</p><p>And the bottom line remains: smaller bags of food mean emptier stomachs.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.chicagosfoodbank.org/site/PageServer?pagename=hunger_research" target="_blank">Reports by the Food Depository and Feeding America</a> estimate one in six people in Cook County don&rsquo;t know where their next meal will come from.</p><p>What happens if they don&rsquo;t start seeing either more food, or less hungry people?</p><p>&ldquo;We all have a knot in our stomach about that,&rdquo; Dolgan said.</p></p> Fri, 18 Jan 2013 11:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cook-county-food-pantries-report-record-need-105023 Use of food stamps rising in Illinois http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago/use-food-stamps-rising-illinois <p><p>New statistics from the state's food stamp program show an increase in those receiving assistance in Illinois.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />The <em>Chicago Sun-Times</em> reported Saturday that numbers from the Illinois Department of Human Services show about 857,000 households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in December. That's 12.7 percent more than a year earlier.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />The largest increases were in DuPage, Kendall, Kane and McHenry counties.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />Illinois SNAP program director Jan Freeman said there has been an increase nearly every month since the fall of 2008.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br />Kate Maehr is chief executive of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She said the non-profit had more people use pantries in November than any month in its 32-year history.</p></p> Sun, 16 Jan 2011 16:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago/use-food-stamps-rising-illinois