Greater Chicago Food Depository

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Greater Chicago Food Depository
Formation 1978 (1978)
Type Non-profit
Headquarters Chicago, IL
Region served
Cook County
600 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters
Executive Director
Kate R. Maehr
Main organ
Board of Directors

The Greater Chicago Food Depository is a nonprofit food distribution and training center providing food for hungry people while striving to end hunger in Chicago and throughout Cook County, Illinois. The Food Depository distributes donated and purchased food through a network of 600 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters to 500,000 adults and children every year. In fiscal year 2007-08, the Food Depository distributed more than 46 million pounds of nonperishable food and fresh produce, dairy products and meat, the equivalent of more than 95,000 meals every day.[1]

The Food Depository is a charter member of Feeding America (formerly known as America's Second Harvest), the nation's food bank network.


Following in the footsteps of John van Hengel, who in 1967 founded the first food bank, a warehouse which received donated food and distributed it to soup kitchens in Phoenix, Arizona, Tom O’Connell in 1978 collaborated with Robert W. Strube Sr., Father Philip Marquard, Gertrude Snodgrass, Ann Connors and Ed Sunshine to set up a food bank similar to the Phoenix model, called the Greater Chicago Food Depository.[2] ("Food Depository"—rather than "Food Bank"—was chosen because of an Illinois statute that then prohibited the use of the word "bank" in the name of non-banking entities.[3])

The City of Chicago provided a start-up grant, and Strube Celery and Vegetable Company donated warehouse space. The Food Depository distributed 471,000 pounds of food from 22 food donors to 85 agencies in its first year of operation. The food bank’s supply grew when Illinois legislators passed a Good Samaritan law in 1981. The legislation protected food contributors from legal liabilities (Congress passed national legislation in 1996). Within a year food donors increased to 111, distribution to 6.1 million pounds and agencies to 375, and the Food Depository leased a more spacious warehouse. The growing food bank settled in a 91,000-square-foot (8,500 m2) facility at 4501 South Tripp Avenue in 1984.[2]

In 1986, the Food Depository established a Perishable Food Program, now known as Food Rescue, with a grant from Chicago Community Trust. The program ferried unused food from restaurants and caterers to soup kitchens. The Food Depository further broadened its distribution in 1993. The Produce People Share Program addressed the need for fresh fruits and vegetables in the community, and the first Kids Cafe began serving after-school hot meals for low-income children.

By 1998, the Food Depository’s distribution topped 25 million pounds. In that same year, the food bank founded Chicago’s Community Kitchens, a free, 12-week culinary training program for unemployed and underemployed adults. In 2001, the first Producemobile, a farmers’ market on wheels, began distributing fresh produce to low-income communities.[2]


Produce mobile[edit]

In 2001, produce delivery to neighborhoods in need expanded as the Greater Chicago Food Depository launched the Producemobile. This single “farmer’s market on wheels” quickly became an important addition to Food Depository services. With food distribution needs rising, a second Producemobile took to the streets of Chicago in 2005.[4] These beverage-style trucks take donated fresh fruits and vegetables directly to hundreds of hungry people across Chicago on a weekly basis. Many of these individuals live in areas where produce is difficult or costly to obtain.

Mobile Pantry[edit]

The Mobile Pantry program, launched in 2007, distributes nonperishable food and perishable food to more than twelve sites each month. The Mobile Pantry brings food to communities that have a high concentration of poverty but relatively low levels of Food Depository food assistance, as identified by the 2006 Cook County Unmet Need Study. The program aims to serve working people by delivering food on evenings and weekends—when food assistance typically is not available.[4]

Food Rescue[edit]

Since 1987, the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Food Rescue program has been recovering prepared and perishable foods, such as meats, dairy products, baked goods and produce that might otherwise have been wasted. Using refrigerated trucks, Food Rescue drivers—who are state-certified in food handling and sanitation—collect surplus foods at grocery stores, restaurants, caterers and cafeterias. These donations are then delivered to pantries, soup kitchens and shelters for incorporation into their meal plans.[4]

Kids Cafes[edit]

The Kids Cafe program is a national initiative of Feeding America and administered locally by the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Since 1993, the Food Depository’s Kids Cafes have tackled the issue of childhood hunger by partnering with after-school programs to provide hot meals, tutoring and other educational programs for children in a safe, nurturing environment. The Food Depository has launched 44 Kids Cafes, serving more than 2,500 children each day.[5]

Nourish for Knowledge[edit]

Nourish for Knowledge provides take-home bags of food on weekends to schoolchildren in low-income neighborhoods. The Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Chicago Public Schools, and two suburban public school districts have teamed up to offer the bags of food in 30 community schools, which offer after-school programming for children and parents. More than 4,600 bags of healthy snacks are distributed every week.[5]

Chicago's Community Kitchens[edit]

Founded in 1998, Chicago’s Community Kitchens is a free, 12-week culinary training program for unemployed and underemployed adults. The program, located at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, prepares students for a productive career in foodservice by providing them with a solid foundation in food preparation. Students gain experience in a state-of-the-art industrial kitchen while preparing up to 12,500 nutritious meals each week for children at Kids Cafes, after-school hot meal programs in low-income areas. The course includes a two-week internship in commercial kitchens in a corporate cafeteria, hospital, hotel or restaurant.[6]

Pantry University[edit]

Founded in 2004, Pantry University is the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s training program for member pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Pantry University is dedicated to building the capacity of member agency partners by providing training and educational workshops on topics such as grant writing, creating budgets and volunteer management. Pantry University has offered courses at the Greater Chicago Food Depository as well as at community colleges, neighborhood centers and agency sites throughout Cook County.[7]

Client workshops and classes range from food safety and sanitation, nutrition, fundraising, grant writing, creating and maintaining budgets to operational best practices. All classes are taught by Food Depository staff, agency representatives and skilled practitioners who are knowledgeable in their topic areas. Pantry University is approved by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training to award Continuing Education Units for qualifying classes.[7]

Older Adults[edit]

The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Older Adult Program was formally launched in May 2006 to address the needs of low-income seniors. The program delivers fresh produce to seniors at 42 Chicago Housing Authority complexes, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sites and other locations in Cook County. Approximately 4,400 seniors are served every month through the produce delivery program. In 2007, the Food Depository began delivering boxes of nonperishable food to 39 CHA and HUD senior residences in Chicago. Nearly 3,000 boxes, or “senior packs,” are delivered every month. Of the nearly 500,000 people who rely on food from the Food Depository and its network of 600 member agencies every year, 10 percent are older adults.[8]



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