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Study Finds 1 in 5 Chicagoans Are Hungry

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File Photo: Grocery store (Photo credit Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

File Photo: Grocery store (Photo credit Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

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Updated 09/21/11 – 4:31 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Greater Chicago Food Depository has, for the first time, done a neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdown of hunger in the Chicago area.

As WBBM’s Mike Krauser reports, some of the numbers are staggering.

The numbers are growing—and about 20 percent of Chicagoans are hungry, a new analysis found.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser Reports

“Hunger is something that, unfortunately, is strong, alive and kicking in every community,” said Kate Maehr, the CEO of the Food Depository.

RELATED: FIND HUNGER RATES IN YOUR AREA | MAPS OF HUNGER RATES IN CHICAGO AREA

The findings point to strong links between unemployment and food insecurity. The problem is highly concentrated in communities on the West and Southwest Sides of Chicago and in several Cook County suburbs.

As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, the report found nearly 850,000 people in Cook County aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from.

Disabled factory worker Dennis Evanshenk is a regular visitor to the food pantry at Oak Lawn Community Church – and a thankful one. But lately, he’s noticed a change.

“I’ve been here before where the whole shelves were are full, but the last couple of times I’ve been here, it’s been pretty empty,” he said.

Volunteers said that is a a direct reflection growing demand from the new faces of the unemployed.

Volunteer Pat Gundersen said she is worried about meeting the increased long-term demand.

“Every pantry is, every pantry is. Because people are not back to work,” she said.

At St. Sylvester’s Pantry in Logan Square, the story’s much the same. Three years ago, they served 225 families. Now, they serve more than 800.

Deacon Fred Ortiz said, “We have people that have been in banking, people that have been in teaching, medical fields. We have seen a very, very big increase in that type of client coming in for service.”

Overall, the Chicago Food Depository says visits to food pantries are soaring, up 58 percent in the last three years.

Depository CEO Kate Maehr said, “That hunger is not restricted to one neighborhood. It’s in every community and every suburban community in our county and across our state in record numbers.”

The group’s study found 1 one 5 Chicagoans is hungry (or “food insecure”) — defined as somebody who is forced to consume a low-quality diet, disrupt eating patterns or reduce their food intake.

A total of 15 percent of people in suburban Cook County are hungry and nearly every neighborhood is affected.

In Lincoln Park, considered one of the wealthiest areas in the city, 10 percent of residents are hungry.

Meanwhile, in Washington Park on the South Side, 34 percent of its residents are hungry. That’s the highest rate in the city. Experts say that many poorer areas lack grocery stores and proper access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy options.

In suburban Ford Heights, more than half of the people there are considered hungry.

There’s concern among those fighting hunger that federal food assistance programs could be reduced in Washington, at a time the need is greatest. They want voters tell their representatives that’s not the way to go.

Next week, a huge new food distribution bank will open in Geneva, serving 60,000 people each week in Lake, DuPage, Kane, and ten other outlying counties.

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