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Hunger in Chicago

This is a story I reported and edited after researching hunger in Cook County.

Pictured Right: A patron of The Hillside Food Pantry with director Maiya Lueptow.

Hunger in Chicago - Alex Sher


Narrator: Sarah grew up in a college town with lots of intellectual stimulation from her community and family.


Sarah: My father was chairman of the English department at Kenyon college. My mother was a celebrated short story writer.


Narrator: Just like most people from her time, Sarah went on to get a college degree.


Sarah: I got a B.A. in English from a private college in Michigan and got a masters in social work. Did almost all of my career in the field of mental health.


Narrator: But, Sarah developed mental health issues of her own.


Sarah: Totally nonfunctional, with depression and I had two toddlers. I couldn't care for them. My marriage fell apart, my ex-husband got custody. And that broke my heart. I was in and out of hospitals for like seven years. Had shock treatments.


Narrator: Luckily, Sarah was able to eventually find the right combination of medication.


Sarah: And I'm still on that, twenty years later. I mean, it was like a miracle.


Narrator: Despite being functional, Sarah has had a difficult time finding a job.


Sarah: I take a lot of medication and it kind of interferes with my thinking abilities, my cognitive abilities. And I'm also slower physically.


Narrator: That left her with only receiving a social security check once a month.


Sarah: I'm poor. And being poor is a full-time job. You have to run to the food pantry. You have to run and get extra medication. You run to extra doctors. You have to fill out paperwork, to go pick up your drugs. I go to the food pantry, but sometimes they make you wait a week. Sometimes I don't have much to eat and that whole weekend, maybe I'll eat spaghetti with grated cheese.


Narrator: Many of Sarah's errands require extra steps to make them more affordable. Before she can even go to the food pantry, she has to go to the civic center to purchase discounted taxi coupons for three dollars a ride.


Sarah: It just really takes up so much time!


Narrator: In addition, Sarah has a lot of paperwork to fill out.


Sarah: I got a thing in the mail with thirty-two or thirty-eight pages of applications to see if I still qualify for Section Eight. It took forever and there was a deadline and if you got one thing wrong, they could disqualify you.


Narrator: Another difficulty for Sarah is the fact that she can't afford a car.


Sarah: People with a car could do certain errands, you know, in a half hour. It takes me two and a half hours, because I have to wait for busses.


Narrator: Sarah estimated that she has about a hundred dollars a month for food, although some months she has more money than others.


Sarah: In fact, I'm going to run out of money before the month is over. I've got like fifty bucks left.


Narrator: Sarah also gets a small amount of money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.


Sarah: I get exactly sixteen dollars a month!


Narrator: Sarah does her best to eat healthfully, but that can be difficult when food pantries provide a lot of carbs and cheap, nonperishable items. Luckily, she has found a pantry that provides a lot of fresh produce.


Sarah: I like fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, of which there are always a lot from the food pantry.


Narrator: Sarah's son is also food insecure. She tries to help him out when she can, but that can be difficult considering her own financial situation.


Sarah: He doesn't get enough to eat. He has a dog, which is his only companion. He loves that dog. He can't afford to feed the dog. He feeds the dog rather than himself.


Narrator: Sarah understands why he chooses to feed the dog over himself.


Sarah:  He's lonely, bored.


Narrator: For Sarah, the loneliness is one of the hardest parts of her life, especially after growing up around so many intelligent people.


Sarah: I try not to think about it, the comparison between that and the way I live now is very painful. You know, our family just had a lot of respect. We were important. I don't mean like "ooh", but you know what I'm saying? Had a lot of influence. Sometimes I feel like I have no importance whatsoever. 

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