Sales of locally grown foods are up in the Champaign-Urbana area as new farmer’s markets start up, and more consumers turn to buy local produce.
Urbana resident Clark McPhail likes fresh food. So, nearly every Saturday in the summer, he bikes to Urbana’s Market at the Square and browses through the dozens of vendors to shop for fruits and vegetables. “In the summertime, 70 percent of our vegetable produce I buy here are from the farmer’s market or Common Ground,” McPhail said. “I don’t mind paying a little extra for quality produce."
Ways to help the effort to address hunger in our community
Are you interested in helping community efforts to address hunger in east central Illinois? Below are some opportunities to get involved.
CENTRAL ILLINOIS FOOD BANK
There are several ways to volunteer, participate and advocate at the Central Illinois Food Bank.
EASTERN ILLINOIS FOODBANK
Warehouse Sorting: Individuals are needed to help sort products in the warehouse Mondays thru Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Fridays from 7 a.m. to noon. Duties will involve sorting through product and organizing and stocking shelves. Volunteers will need to be able to stand for long periods of time.
SNAP Information Volunteers: Volunteers are needed to assist the SNAP Outreach Coordinator with providing information to possible SNAP (food stamp) recipients. This is a great internship opportunity for students in the school of social work or anyone interested in human services. Training would be provided. Volunteers will attend informational events that fit with their schedules (events occur any day of the week) and hand out materials, take questions, etc. For more information on this position download the SNAP Information Volunteer/Intern job description.
Foodmobile Captains: A few committed individuals are needed that would be interested in being a lead volunteer at the foodmobiles. Foodmobiles are mobile food pantries that are sent to areas of need within 14 counties. A truckload of food is brought to a host site and distributed. To find out more about foodmobiles visit the foodmobiles page or download the Foodmobile Captain job description if you're interested in becoming a volunteer leader with this project.
SALAVATION ARMY DANVILLE CORPS
Volunteers are needed for the food pantry on Tuesday and Fridays between 1 and 3:30 p.m. If interested, fill out an volunteer application.
WESLEY EVENING FOOD PANTRY
Refrigerator Truck (once a month): Loan of a truck and driver once a month to pick up one to three pallets of refrigerated items at Eastern Illinois Foodbank on the third Thursday of the month and keep them cold through the end of distribution (approximately 8 p.m.).
Area Coordinators: Area Coordinators are volunteers who supervise the same tasks every month. Ability to attend second Thursday planning meeting helpful. Current needs are: --Parking Lot Coordinator, 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday --Waiting Area Coordinator, 3 to 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday, bi-lingual in English and Spanish --Cleanup Coordinator, 7 to 9:30 p.m. on the third Thursday --Communications Coordinator, write newsletter articles and email announcements on your own schedule --Donations Coordinator, Tuesday or Thursday afternoons, keep track of donations received and send thank-you notes
Spanish-Speaking Volunteers: Volunteers who are bi-lingual in English and Spanish, particularly those willing to work most months, are needed 3:15 to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday.
Office Assistant: Organized volunteer needed two or three afternoons a week as assistant to the director. Must be comfortable with MS Office and enjoy finding creative solutions to problems.
For more information, call (217) 344-1120 or visit their website.
Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to Illinois to detassel corn and harvest crops. Often times they do not make enough money to feed themselves and their families.
Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to Illinois to detassel corn and harvest crops. Often times they do not make enough money to feed themselves and their families. Language barriers are keeping these farm workers from getting the help they need.
Back in the 1980's, there was a lawsuit filed alleging that Illinois didn't provide adequate bilingual services to people applying for food stamps. That lawsuit led to a court order known as the Quinones Consent Decree. To settle the lawsuit, the state agreed to increase interpreter and translation services in public aid offices where there was a high concentration of Spanish speakers. It also allowed the state to contract with the Illinois Migrant Council to help farmworkers sign up for food stamps.
The Illinois Migrant Council currently gets about $40,500 from the Illinois Department of Human Services to maintain that program, but Eloy Salazar, the organization's executive director, said that's not enough.
"The need for the program has increased, and the funding has not kept up pace with that," Salazar said. "It's getting harder and harder for us to provide the kind of services that we need to provide because of inflation, cost of travel for the people that we hire, and that money is just not going far enough."
The council has cut the program down to two food stamp outreach coordinators in the state - one of whom is Magdalena Lopez.
Lopez's job takes her to six east central Illinois counties from Kankakee to Mattoon. Speaking at the end of August half-way through the migrant farm labor season, Lopez said she had already filled out more than 800 food stamp applications.
"When they're here, I'm here to work," Lopez said. "I'm here till all hours of the afternoon and weekends in order for them to do it on time."
One of the workers who waited to see her outside of an apartment complex on Urbana's east side was Rosando Islas, who came to Champaign County from Texas to work for Pioneer Hi-Bred.
Islas can go the local DHS office in Champaign to sign up for food stamps where there are people who can help him in Spanish. But instead he chooses to go to Lopez, in whom he has a high level of confidence that he said he cannot get anywhere else.
"I like doing it here because it's more one-on-one, everyone is more understanding of the relationship we have with her," he said. "I can confide in her knowing that she does her job really well."
Lopez also met with Aurora Garcia, who works for Pioneer. Garcia has been coming back and forth to Champaign County for the last 22 years from Texas. She typically signs up for food stamps through Lopez. But the day before she met with Lopez at the end of August, she tried to sign up at Champaign's DHS office. While the office is supposed to be staffed with permanent bilingual employees, Garcia said when she got there; no one was available to help.
"I went to DHS, and all they did was just give me the paperwork," Garcia said. "They didn't ask me to wait. They didn't tell me to look for somebody. I was a little bit angry. They didn't ask for my name. I asked for Magdalena, and they didn't answer any questions."
Lopez said she often hears stories from migrant workers who have a bad experience at a DHS office because of language barriers, confusion by people working at the front desk, or long waits. She said a group of about 40 migrants were recently turned away from the Coles County DHS office because a person who worked there said no one who spoke Spanish was available to help. That office, like the one in Champaign, does have permanent bilingual staff.
"They went back again, and the same thing happened," Lopez explained. "Then they called me and they wanted to know if the people were going to go back. I said they're probably not going to go back. She says, 'Well, we gave them applications.' I said, 'Yes, but some of them don't know how to write.'"
The DHS' Director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, Nelida Smyser-Deleon, said no one should be turned away because of their language or background. Smyser-Deleon's office oversees the Quinones Consent Decree, the court order that allowed the state to boost its interpreter and translation services in offices that handle food stamp applications. Smyser-Deleon said even if an office isn't fully staffed with permanent bilingual employees, people who work at the front desk should at least be familiar with how to help a non-English speaker.
"They have a document in front of them, like '¿Habla Español?'" she said. "You know key things that they can ask the individual, and then have them point to the language. Then they go ahead and look for a bilingual person who speaks that language and bring them up to the front."
Smyser-Deleon said each office also has instructional posters on the walls in Spanish and English with information about food stamp rights, migrant counties, and interpreter services.
"Those are posters that are mandated through the Quinones Consent Decree that should be in every office," she said.
About 70 percent of the DHS offices that handle food stamp applications lack permanent bilingual staff across 24 counties where at least 1 in 5 Hispanics live below the poverty line and where at least 1 in 5 aren't proficient in English, according to Census Bureau estimates.
The state said at this point, it's unable to pump more money into the Illinois Migrant Council's food stamp outreach efforts because of budgetary reasons.
One option, though, for the migrant council is to start using its own funds to support the program rather than relying on the state. If that were to happen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the federal food stamp program, said it could reimburse the council for half of what it puts into outreach.
Meanwhile, food banks, like those in McLean and Champaign Counties, are making efforts to fill the gap with their own food stamp outreach coordinators. But like the Illinois Department of Human Services, they suffer from a lack of Spanish speaking workers on the ground.
A public lecture by the College of Medicine at Illinois
Janet Liechty, assistant professor, School of Social Work at Illinois; Dr. Kristen Vogt, a Carle Hospital physician; and David Buchner, professor, Kinesiology & Community Health at Illinois, spoke at the College of Medicine's Community Medical School on Tuesday, September 27 at the Hawthorne Suites in Champaign. The lecture was moderated by William Marshall, Assoc. Dean for Clinical Affairs at Illinois. This was the second in a three-part lecture series for the public on the basic science of obesity.
Two million people in Illinois deal with food insecurity, and in eastern Illinois that number is about 80,000, according to a study released by the group, Feeding America. It’s a problem that’s being addressed through programs like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Local food pantries are also working hard to feed people who need food assistance. At the 5th annual hunger symposium on Sept. 27, 2011 in Champaign, food insecurity took front stage. The event was put on by the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and the Family Resiliency Center.
Many more children need food assistance than are getting it and the Illinois Commission to End Hunger heard testimony from people on the front lines of childhood hunger in Peoria and McLean Counties at a public hearing August 9, 2011 in Peoria.
Children comprise nearly half of all participants who receive federal food assistance and yet many more families with children are eligible for help who aren't getting it.
Childhood hunger was the focus of the second of eight hearings on hunger in Illinois presented by the Illinois Commission to End Hunger on Tuesday, August 9, at the United Methodist Church in Peoria.
Pride and stereotypes about people who receive SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or LINK cards (Illinois' name for this federal benefit) keep some people from getting the help they need.
"People say they are lazy, they are this, they are that, and I take personal offense from that because I was on SNAP benefits for my last two years of college," said Brittani Evans, SNAP outreach coordinator for the Peoria Area Foodbank in McLean County.
Evans testified at Tuesday's hearing. She had a son while in high school, graduated, got a job, bought a home and was then diagnosed with cervical cancer.
"For a while, I lived off of my retirement funds," Evans said. "When it came to my money running out of my bank, I was going to school full time and just trying to finish that and do it on my own. I was very, very hesitant to accept any kind of benefits because I never had any. I always took care of myself. It took my last two years of college before I actually accepted that help and started accepting food stamps. It was one of the best things I ever did. It was just one less bill to pay."
Now Evans helps other parents in need and the elderly, another underrepresented group, receive the benefits they are eligible for. Paperwork for SNAP benefits can be daunting, and by going out into the community, Evans has increased the number of people she has enrolled in the program. Her position is funded by a grant from the Heart of Illinois United Way and Feeding Illinois, a network of foodbanks operating in Illinois.
Tuesday's hearing was filled with example after example of people in Peoria and McLean counties finding resources to help hungry children.
For example, when federal funds for summer feeding programs for low-income school children were eliminated, the United Methodist Church in Peoria stepped up and is feeding 50 children from three local schools daily, according to Michelle Hayden of the Madison Avenue Kids Club Program.
"We don't just just serve them lunch but a nutritional meal," Hayden said. "The (Peoria Area) Foodbank has donated lots of food to us. Church people cook food and serve it and donate from their own pockets." Her program also provides the children with structured activities.
Linda Davis, Walmart community involvement coordinator, testified about a partnership between Walmart and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Peoria. Walmart employees deliver backpacks filled with healthy meals from area foodbanks to the Club on Fridays for the children to take home. According to an email from Amy Sickinger, program coordinator at the Club, that was read during the hearing:
"As members have been receiving consistent meals that are nutritionally balanced, they are able to focus and think more clearly. I have seen these children become much less irritable and able to think through things at a level they were not able to before. We have less fighting than ever before in our programming. It sounds so simple, but when someone is hungry, it is almost impossible to focus on anything other than the hunger pains they are experiencing."
Though very popular, backpack programs are one of the most expensive ways to feed children because, according to Barb Shreves, executive director of the Peoria Area Foodbank, the food contained in them is purchased food in small single-serving packages -- such as packaged tuna in a pouch and cartons of milk - all designed for children to open themselves.
Walmart doesn't donate the food for the backpacks; instead, according to Shreves, they donate thousands of pounds of canned goods and meat that isn't sold by the expiration date to area foodbanks for redistribution.
Marjorie LaFont, community leader and founding member of the Peoria Area Anti-Hunger Coalition, spoke of Tender Mercies, a project of the Midwest Foodbank in Bloomington with satellite offices in Peoria and Indianapolis. Tender Mercies is a meal in a bag that makes five servings of a complete nutritiously balanced meal of beans, rice and textured protein.
Though the private response to childhood hunger seemed strong in the Peoria area, all presenters stressed that federal assistance in the form of SNAP benefits and school feeding programs are vital to meeting increasing need.
Arthur Welch, moderator for the hearing summed it up this way:
"It's all about children. What I would recommend to the Commission is this: whoever makes the final presentation, choose someone among you who has passion for what we are talking about today ... You must feed hungry children. And in this state and in this country, there is no excuse for not feeding children. No excuse be it Republican, Democrat or Independent. There is no excuse in the United States of America that we shouldn't be taking care of our children and elderly better than we are doing."
The next hearing will take place on Monday, August 29, from noon until 3pm at The Wayne Township Pantry in West Chicago. The topic is "The Hidden Face of Hunger."
To hear the hearing on childhood hunger from the Peoria session, click on the listen button at the top of this story.
Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to harvest food for Illinois while going hungry themselves. State officials hope to change that.
Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to harvest food for Illinois while going hungry themselves. "You suffer a lot," said Abel Cintora, a farm worker and a member of the Illinois Migrant Council. Cintora was one of several people to speak recently at an Illinois Commission to End Hunger hearing in Rantoul. "One of the hardships is the fact that we never know if we are going to have a full paycheck," he said in Spanish to a room of about two dozen people . "A lot of times you're faced with the choice to pay rent or buy food." The Illinois Migrant Council estimates that at least 30,000 people come to work Illinois' farms each year for one purpose - to support their families. But their journey here is tough and they face many struggles along the way, experts said, including bad housing, exposure to pesticides and food insecurity. Food insecurity means that a person does not have constant access to enough food. "They are one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in the country," said Eloy Salazar, executive director of the Illinois Migrant Council. Wages depending on the weather and lack of consistent income coupled with rising transportation and food costs add up to "extreme situations" where both the farm workers and their children go hungry, he said. "The most vulnerable are the children whose nutrition is vital to their health and growth," Salazar said. Often times, families arrive to work with little money in their pocket and a long wait for their first paychecks, said Donna Camp, director of Urbana's Wesley Evening Food Pantry. "Transitions are a very difficult time," she said. "Transitions in your life between jobs and houses is when food insecurity happens." And where they live can make a difference too, Camp said. "Housing impacts food security," she said. "People living without adequate refrigerators and cooking facilities also impacts the kind of food (they can use). Our families need the kind of food they can turn into lunches. Families are going without lunch." Gov. Pat Quinn approved a bill to create the Illinois Commission to End Hunger last year as a way to address the state's hunger problems. The group will recommend solutions after it completes a series of hearings to survey food insecurity across the state. "The situation with farm workers of Illinois is getting bleaker and the food insecurity problem is getting worse," Salazar said. "There has to be some type of food security for them who come to harvest crops for the (state)." Organizations such as the Illinois Migrant Council offer migrant workers a quicker way to access food help, such as an expedited process for food stamps. But recent funding cuts mean that the council has less resources to reach people and in turn, more people go without. To help make ends meet, migrant workers often find second jobs, but even that is not enough. "It still becomes very hard to survive, especially if you have children," Cintora said. Possible solutions include a door-to-door service to deliver food boxes for those without transportation, more food stamp coordinators and longer hours at food pantries, experts said. "Through all of these years, I've noticed a big need for farm workers not having enough food to eat and to bring to the table," said Jose Garza, a farm worker and vice chairman of the Illinois Migrant Workers board. "It's pretty hard and it breaks my heart."
The next hearing of the Illinois Commission to End Hunger will take place on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 from noon until 3pm at the United Methodist Church in Peoria. The subject is childhood hunger.
Hear the Illinois Commission to End Hunger's session, "Migrant Farm Workers and Food Insecurity" by clicking the "Listen" link near the photos at the top of this story or listen live at 11 a.m. on Labor Day (Monday, September 5, 2011) on WILL radio, AM 580.
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