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Local hunger stats aren’t easy to stomach

Updated: April 19, 2011 4:57AM



Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of columns from Tony Stanford related to child nutrition, healthy food accessibility and the painful issue of hunger.

Hunger, poverty and homelessness have a firm grip on communities across the country. The prolonged recession, job losses and foreclosures are hitting the collar counties hard.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty in Illinois has increased 24 percent over the past decade. And get this: The number of Americans living in poverty has climbed to an unprecedented 14.3 percent, and rising exponentially in Illinois.

As if that weren’t bad enough, a recent study gives Illinois the dubious distinction of being ranked the highest in late payments to nonprofits in the entire nation. That’s right, a whopping 72 percent of payments are late to human service organizations.

This, along with the fact that people who thought they’d never need help are requesting services, is no doubt making already tough economic times even tougher.

Of course, statistics can be used to make any point, and that is why I am not easily swayed by numbers alone.

Yet in any context, that 19 percent of American children now live in poverty is utterly heartbreaking. It brings to mind what jazz great Billie Holiday said about being poor, “When you’re poor, you grow up fast.”

The data tells only part of the story. While our government tries to find a way out of the economic mess, anti-poverty advocates and volunteers see the toll that it is taking on communities and families.

Meanwhile, a cadre of professionals and volunteers throughout the Fox Valley are marshaling forces and coalescing around local, regional, national, even global efforts, to stand against homelessness, poverty and hunger.

For instance, on Saturday, the Jabez Foundation Inc. sponsored a health fair where area health care professionals offered free visual, blood pressure, glucose, anemia and other screenings.

Keith Knazze, CEO of Transitional Alternative Re-entry Initiative Inc., whose organization hosted the event, reports that the 15 participating providers served 66 area families during the health fair. The Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry distributed food to 52 families.

In conjunction with Make a Difference Day, Quad County Urban League and its Project Ready students are commemorating the nation’s largest day of community service by hosting a Global Hunger and Homelessness Awareness event this Saturday. As part of the observance, participants are encouraged to donate dry food goods for a local food pantry.

“The information that our students will be sharing and learning will help to ensure that the next generation is part of the solution, not only for people in the United States, but worldwide,” said Theodia Gillespie, president and CEO of the Quad County Urban League.

For additional information about Saturday’s event, including venue information, contact the league at 630-851-2203.

And in Naperville, Janet Derrick acts as the executive director of Naperville CARES, an agency that helps people in the Naperville community avoid homelessness and to achieve self-sufficiency, and provides emergency financial assistance to residents of Naperville. The agency also helps with basic needs like housing, utilities and child care.

When Derrick told me that 47 percent of the residents served by her organization are children under the age of 18, I was taken aback.

“Due to the depth and length of this recession everyone is feeling the strain, so our clients really have no place to turn for financial assistance … ,” Derrick said.

For more information about Naperville CARES, call 630-369-0200.

Anthony Stanford is a freelance writer and Chicagoland Radio contributor. Contact him at bmhtales@sbcglobal or on Facebook.



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