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Hunger issues and programs- and how hunger, jobs, housing tie into each other and everything else including about how families, in trouble or not, relate to communities

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From the Hyde Park Herald, November 5, 2008
HPK Hunger programs aiming to fill gap: Record number of people in need
By Crystal Fencke

Rev. Susan Johnson of the Hyde Park Union Church has put out an urgent call for increased giving to the Hyde Park and Kenwood Hunger Programs, a free food service. Johnson is looking for any additional contributions, large or small, noting that every little bit helps.

Johnson, senior minister with the church, indicated in a recent press release that the center is serving a record number of people this fall. It has recently "seen an increase of over a a third" of residents who are in need of the services. Johnson said that in September of this year the center has seen 825 individuals, up from 539 in June. "In 27 years of operation, we have never served this many people," she said.

The HPK Hunger Programs consist of a food pantry at Hyde Park Union Church (HPUC), 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave., and a soup kitchen at Kenwood United Church of Christ, 4600 S. Greenwood Ave. Both locations serve the zip codes 60615 of the Hyde Park and Kenwood communities, 60637, which reaches Jackson Park and Woodlawn; 60653 in Bronzeville, and some of the 60609 code of Washington Park.

The pantry is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at HPUC. It receives aid from grocery stores, such as Dominick's and Whole Foods Market, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. However, there is still a ned to help fill the bags, which offer monthly supplements of meat, peanut butter, produce and oatmeal, among other staples. In addition, the soup kitchen is open daily to serve a noon meal of a hearty soup, such as chili with meat, and juice, yogurt and boxed cake to homeless people and others in need.

The long-time spiritual leader of the HPUC said she sees a particular need for gifts during these rough economic times. The nutrition program is seeing many people affected by the mortgage crisis. Jan Deckenbach, food pantry site manager said in an e-mail. "As we interview people we have learned that many renters are facing the costs of relocation because their landlords are in foreclosure." Johnson is also seeing "a lot of people who are unemployed, who have to choose between food and getting your car fixed, or eating and getting a tooth fixed, we don't want to see that. That's why we have the food available," she said.

Jimmy howard, 56, and Alexis Hawkins, 47, a Bronzeville couple, recently began attending the daily lunches at the soup kitchen at the Kenwood Church after a hiatus. "This is our first day back," after returning from a town in Indiana, said Hawkins. Howard, who works for wrecking crews with the Chicago Transit Authority and other organizations, had a line on a job in the neighboring state that never materialized. He is back on the South Side now because of news of work he could do in Chicago. The work is good if you can get it, paying about $225 per day, said Howard. However, it is often temporary project based employment. And with the economy in the dire state it is in, the tip Howard received remained just that: a tip. Howard said he is already feeling the pinch, as he is unemployed now. "I found an apartment through friends, but I might not be able to keep it," he said.

Johnson is hoping to encourage an increase in donations from people who can afford it. She would like to tap what she sees as an under-represented resource -- younger families. She said that currently "over half of my donors are people well over 60 years old." When pressed, she said that this is evidenced by a number of factors, including shaky handwriting on checks. She also notices addresses, such as from Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Dr., a local residence for senior citizens.

Speculating on the possibility of support from recent arrivals to Hyde Park, Johnson said that younger upwardly-mobile families have been attracted to Hyde Park as a liberal, open-minded community in which to raise their children, but the aren't connected yet. In addition, they are busy with work and family, and possibly not focused on giving. They also might support arts organizations with their discretionary income, she said.

But she said that all that's necessary is a very small amount. "If we received just $5 a year from the 40,000 people (that make up the community), that's enough, she said.

That's one reason HPUC held a Peanut Butter and Jelly Benefit on Sunday, Oct. 19, which brought in 250 people, most of whom were not congregants. Johnson said that the event was very successful, bringing in a little over $3,000, 98 pounds of peanut butter and 63 pounds of jelly. It featured children's entertainer Justin Roberts. A broken guitar string became an opportunity for Robert to talk [to] his 2- 7 year-old groupies about never knowing what's going to happen in life, and the reason they brought the peanut butter.

The next event where people can pitch in to help Hyde Park and Kenwood Hungers is the traditional Thanksgiving service at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave. [11 am. After that, there is the annual Willie Pickens Jazz Christmas, with Brandon Marsalis) Dec. 19 at Union Church.]