From left Debi Genthe, Executive Director, Meals at Home; Daniel Jariabka, President and Founder, Hunger Resource Network; Pastor Maiya Lueptow, Director, Hillside Food Pantry; Kellie Mann, Social Service Provider, Curt’s Cafe; and Lisa Todd, Community Relations Manager, Connections for the Homeless.RoundTable photo

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The Evanston Public Library has partnered with Meals at Home, a meal delivery service that supports the homebound, the elderly, the disabled, and others unable to care for their nutritional needs, to present a series of events addressing the issue of food insecurity in Evanston.

The first of four installments took place last month in which three students from Northwestern University presented findings from a study they conducted last summer on food insecurity and food access in Evanston. Joanne Huang, a third-year School of Education and Social Policy student, defined food insecurity as a state in which people do not have sufficient, safe, nutritious food without resorting to scavenging, stealing, or food donations.

The study found Evanston’s food insecurity rate ranges from 12.1% and 20%.

On Jan. 25, in the second session of the four-part series, representatives from local nonprofits gathered in the library’s community meeting room to discuss ways to collaborate and tackle the multiple challenges of hunger in Evanston.

Debi Genthe, Executive Director of Meals at Home, said their biggest challenge right now is trying to keep up with the need.

“We can get more volunteers, but right now we are trying to solve. … Where do we get more food?”

Pastor Maiya Lueptow, Director of Hillside Food Pantry on the northwest side of Evanston, said one of her greatest challenges, especially in the winter months,
is transportation.

“It can be very hard for people to get to us,” Ms. Lueptow said. “Too often they have to decide, are they going to use their bus fare to go get food or to go to the doctor?”

The panelists agreed that food insecurity is a result of a much larger issue that needs to be addressed – affordable housing.

Connections for the Homeless Community Relations Manager Lisa Todd said 3,500 households in Evanston are paying more than 50% of their income towards rent, according to information collected from Evanston’s Housing and Homelessness Commission.

“We need to tackle affordable housing in our community,” Ms. Todd said. “Just as there is no county in the country that doesn’t have food insecurity, there is also not a single county in the country that has enough affordable housing. Until we deal with that issue, we will continue to have people dipping into their medical money, food money, and transportation money to pay for their rent.”

The group discussed the importance of working together to create a master list of all services offered on a day-to-day basis.  Interfaith Action of Evanston was recognized as a force of collaboration within the community as they already create a list of area soup kitchens and warming centers.

Daniel Jariabka, President and Founder of Hunger Resource in Northbrook who works closely with Hillside Food Pantry and other Evanston organizations to provide high-quality protein, described how Northbrook created a master calendar to help coordinate their resources.

“We post everything going on [in our village], not only where the food is, but who is providing it, what it is, and when it is happening,” Mr. Jariabka said. “There is less overlapping. For example, we can avoid two schools having food drives on the same day.”

Ms. Genthe highlighted programs modeled in other cities such as Washington D.C.’s Central Kitchen and The Campus Kitchens Project, two programs that have proved successful in breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty.

“These are examples we can look to of the community truly coming together, and we know that it works,” she said.

Ms. Todd said she feels fortunate to be working in a city like Evanston, where people want to help, but added that true change happens when “we look at each other as neighbors and not as a threat.”

“Evanston, our state, our country will do better when we take care of the people who are struggling,” she said. “When people’s basic needs are taken care of, the entire community thrives, and I believe Evanston is on the tipping point of truly realizing that.”