Connect Blog | WhyHunger

Hunger Is, a joint charitable program of the Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), has been working with community-based organizations across the U.S. and national partners, like WhyHunger, to help end childhood hunger by investing in nutritious breakfast for every child! They have helped fuel innovative programs to provide 6.4 million healthy breakfasts to over 200,000 kids. Last year alone, their grantees in 33 states and the District of Columbia provided enough fresh fruits and vegetables to equal the weight of the Statue of Liberty – over 460,000 lbs. – to help give kids the fuel they need to grow, learn and thrive. We’ve been teaming up with Hunger Is to spotlight these critical programs and their impact. WhyHunger recently visited the Northern Illinois Food Bank to see their BackPack program in action and created this short video to share its impact.

The Northern Illinois Food Bank serves more than 71,500 people across thirteen counties of Northern Illinois. 66 percent of the households served fall at or below the federal poverty level and 36 percent of recipients are children under the age of 18. It’s a mix of small to mid-sized towns, Chicago suburbs and exurbs and rural agricultural communities. Despite being in America’s breadbasket with seemingly endless corn fields, food insecurity and a lack of nutritional options affect far too many residents.

The Food Bank has been addressing food needs since 1983 when Sister Rosemarie Burian began distributing food via soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters. Since then, the Food Bank has grown and evolved, realizing its role in not just providing food, but providing healthy food and reaching into the hunger gaps that exist within communities. A 2014 Hunger in America study found that 53 percent of households served by Northern Illinois Food Bank reported at least one family member with high blood pressure, while 26 percent of households had at least one family member with diabetes.

The Food Bank was seeking ways to combat diet-related disease, reach more people with healthy food and reach them at the right times even before that study. In 2008, the Food Bank began a BackPack program, which now distributes a variety of shelf-stable foods each week to students in more than 180 schools during the school year. The BackPack program aims to fill the meal gap for children at risk of hunger at times when they are not in school, such as evenings and weekends. School partners often reported that students who rely on free and reduced lunch for weekday meals would often come to school on Mondays feeling sluggish and irritable due to not having adequate access to meals over the weekend, thus putting them at a disadvantage to learn and perform.

“77 percent of the families we serve have reported that they will purchase inexpensive processed foods, even if unhealthy, to stretch their food budgets,” says Liz Gartman, Communications Manager at Northern Illinois Food Bank. “So we looked at how we could help mitigate the challenges of providing nutritious meals at home so these kids can have the proper nutrition over the weekends they need to grow and lead healthy, active lives.”

The BackPack program is simple: Food Bank staff and volunteers pack a variety of shelf-stable products – whole grain rice, cereals and pasta, milk, canned chicken or tuna, canned fruit and veggies – into rolling backpacks which are delivered to the 180+ schools each week. At the end of each week, each eligible student picks up their backpack and takes it home for the weekend, returning it Monday morning to be refilled later that week for the coming weekend.

The Food Bank continues to seek ways to expand its BackPack program, including growing it to include more summer sites, as summer break creates another critical hunger gap for many families. With funding support from various private donors, like Hunger Is, more backpacks can be filled with nutritious food to reach more children during the school year and summer break alike.

“Our overall mission of solving hunger means getting every hungry neighbor every meal every day, and that includes reaching kids no matter where they are,” says Gartman.

Hunger Is, a joint charitable program of the Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), builds awareness and raises funds to end childhood hunger. The Idaho Foodbank received a grant to fund efforts in Idaho. This is the third in a WhyHunger series of profiles of grant recipients and their impact.

At the last Closing the Hunger Gap (CTHG) Conference in 2015, representatives of hundreds of food access organizations gathered to declare that charity won’t end hunger. Instead, they called for a radical transformation from charity to justice. They redefined hunger as a problem of economic and racial inequity and reimagined the ways we address hunger.

This year’s conference, themed “From Charity to Solidarity,” promises to be just as revolutionary, especially in the midst of consistent divisive attacks on people in poverty in the current political climate. From September 11 through 13, 2017, hundreds of people from around the country working to eliminate hunger and poverty within their communities will join at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center in Tacoma, Washington, just south of Seattle, to learn from other another and strategize next steps in the continuing movement to end hunger. Registration is currently open to secure your participation.


The 2017 CTHG schedule will inspire and challenge leaders in the anti-hunger movement to question the approach to ending hunger and will provide concrete, collaborative teachings and actions that will continue long after the conference ends. Attendees will choose between interactive sessions on topics including inclusivity and reciprocity in grassroots organizing, racial justice advocacy, the impact of law and policy on anti-hunger work, case studies in sustainable community development and much more.

This year’s keynote speakers are Malik Kenyatta Yakini, founder and Executive Director or the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and Beatriz Beckford, experienced grassroots organizer and Campaign Director of MomsRising. They will each share applicable insights from their work and experiences as anti-hunger movement builders.

Before the conference, participants can engage in training on narrative change and tours of innovative groups in the Washington area addressing food insecurity through cross-sector alliances, community farming, culinary training programs, the arts and more. Throughout the conference, attendees can form meaningful partnerships and with peers from across the country through multiple networking and brainstorming sessions.

The conference is hosted by Northwest Harvest and the CTHG National Network and sponsored by WhyHunger and the Northwest Harvest. Anyone interested in or working towards food justice is welcome to join. Please share this information with your peers and register for the 2017 CTHG conference as soon as possible to guarantee your attendance and a discounted conference registration rate. Scholarships are also available for attendees.

Register today for the 2017 CTHG Conference at:


Welcome to WhyHunger’s Connect Blog featuring stories, projects and articles from the community-based organizations, organizers and social movements that are building the movement for food justice.

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