The Chicago Community Trust has launched a $3 million initiative to help food pantries and homeless shelters respond to sharply rising need.
With its new Unity Challenge, the community foundation is providing a 2-to-1 match for donations up to $1 million to the grant fund, which will help nonprofits build capacity to meet basic human needs.
The Trust has also initiated a new monthly report, Metro Chicago Vital Signs, which tracks rising unemployment, hunger, homelessness and foreclosures in the metropolitan area.
According to the December report, from September 2007 to September 2008, the metropolitan area’s unemployment rate rose from 4.9 percent to 6.6 percent, and foreclosure filings doubled, reaching over 14,000 in the third quarter of this year. The number of individuals using food pantries has risen by a third, and calls for homelessness prevention are rising, reaching nearly 6,200 in October.
The food pantry at St. Columbanus Church, 331 E. 71st, where the Obama family volunteered on Thanksgiving, has seen 33 to 50 percent more people coming in for food, said director LaVerne Morris. “It’s just the economy,” she said. “People are losing their jobs. And if they do find another job, they’re not making the kind of money they were making.
“They’ve gone from making a decent salary to making minimum wage, and the rent hasn’t gone down, gas, lights, taxes, nothing else goes down. A lot of people are working every day and still can’t make ends meet — especially if they have children to feed.”
For the church’s food pantry, costs are going up too. The disposal company is charging for increased garbage pickup, the electric bill went up when an additional refrigerator was added, and just the increased expenditure for grocery bags adds up, Morris said.
Hundreds of nonprofits that are funded by the Trust “report a surge of need for food, housing, and employment — and a desperate need for resources to respond,” said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of the Trust. “Building on our 93-year legacy of philanthropy, we are taking a vigorous role in supporting the region’s most vulnerable citizens today, just as we did during the Great Depression.”
Donations to the Unity Challenge can be made by check or online. The first round of grants from the fund will be announced in February.
At St. Columbanus, the attention brought by the Obama family has also attracted badly-needed volunteers, Morris said. “Most of our volunteers are senior citizens, and they need help.” Indeed, the family’s Thanksgiving visit meant “four extra people helping, and we needed it.” She adds that the Greater Chicago Food Depository and neighborhood food pantries all need additional volunteers.