November 12, 2019
The Greater Chicago Food Depository is cooking up plans that will provide what it describes as a “seismic shift” in the scale and dispersal of its operations, as it anticipates mounting demand for home deliveries from the elderly, people with disabilities, and others who can’t always to make it to a food pantry, The Chicago Tribune reported on November 11.
The Midwest’s largest food bank plans to build a 40,000-square-foot kitchen on a vacant lot adjacent to its headquarters on Chicago’s Southwest Side, where it will prepare meals for home delivery. Once fully operational, the kitchen will be able to produce 4 million meals a year.
The $50 million project, which it plans to fund with philanthropic help, represents a major expansion of the mission of the food bank, which primarily gathers and delivers groceries to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other organizations throughout Chicago and Cook County.
With the population of older adults poised to explode, and many people still struggling to put food on the table despite the nation’s economic recovery, the food bank had a “deeply sobering” realization that a new strategy was necessary to address the need, CEO Kate Maehr told the Tribune.
“We have a recovery that has left many people without their own personal safety net, underemployed, and there is a new tidal wave of need that is poised to hit this community, and we have a responsibility to be ready for that,” she said. “This is a seismic shift.”
The food depository estimates that there is currently an unmet annual need of about 10 million home-delivered meals for low-income older adults and people with disabilities who have a hard time leaving their homes in Cook County. That number could grow to 13.8 million by 2030 as the population ages.
The number of adults over 65 in Cook County is expected to rise 48% by 2030, the news outlet reports—adding about 117,000 lower-income older adults to the area, according to an analysis by the food depository based on census and other projections.
The food depository plans to deliver the meals it prepares at its facility to its community partners, who will then do the last-mile deliveries to people’s homes. Some groups may use the meal service to hold communal dinners to bring people together.
The meals prepared at the kitchen will include hot, cold and frozen meals, some individually packaged and others for communal eating, like a pan of lasagna. The goal is to produce healthy, restaurant-quality meals tailored to cultural, medical or dietary specifications, with user-friendly packaging.
“One thing we have learned with older adults and people with disabilities is that sometimes a package can create a real barrier to accessing healthy food,” Maehr told the newspaper.
The food depository’s expanded campus will include a nutrition education center and community cafe, run by a yet-to-be-announced partner organization, that will connect the new kitchen with the headquarters. The center will feature a demonstration kitchen for classes on how to prepare healthy food, for use by students, health care professionals and others in the community.
There also will be an urban garden for growing produce, run in partnership with a nonprofit.
The depository has promised that the new meal prep focus will not disrupt the its existing work collecting and delivering groceries across a network of 700 partners. The network received nearly 1.5 million visits to grocery programs like food pantries during the fiscal year that ended in June.
The food depository plans to break ground next summer and open by summer 2021. It has no public funds for construction at this point and is relying on donations to make it happen. The organization purchased the land where it plans to build for $3.6 million last December from BNSF Railway.
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