Hunger Free Northbrook Initiative Begins to Take Action

Hunger Free Northbrook Initiative Begins to Take Action

Imagine a community where a central resource could guide people who are food insecure – especially children and seniors – to the help that they need and where food waste is minimized. That vision might seem far-fetched to some, but it is actually moving forward in Northbrook, thanks to the Hunger Resource Network’s (HRN) “Hunger Free Northbrook” initiative, where community stakeholders, including the Northbrook Chamber, are taking practical steps to make Northbrook a food secure community.
Thanks to a grant received from the Alliance to End Hunger, HRN has been working with over 80 leaders from across the community this past year including the Chamber, educators, businesses, health care professionals, media, religious organizations, civic leaders and others to launch a series of projects with the goal of making Northbrook a hunger free community. HRN leader Henry Fetta estimates that there are now over 50 people actively involved, including a number of Chamber members, working together on several identified projects.

The group conducted a community analysis, brainstormed ideas, surveyed different populations and came up with a number of solutions, according to Fetta. Research identified that the populations most at risk of being food insecure are children and seniors. It also identified gaps in programs and services for those in need. As a result, the group whittled down 27 solutions to 6 projects.

“We are excited to be moving into the action stage, beginning to implement the first wave of solutions identified by the stakeholders to improve the food security of our residents,” Fetta comments. “The goals are for these programs to evolve, grow and become ongoing services that Northbrook provides for those in need and to add new solutions as people become available to lead them.”

Already underway is an initiative at Glenbrook Hospital and its food service vendor, Aramark, to bring excess cafeteria food from the hospital to the Northfield Food Pantry (NFP). Excess food is stored and picked up once a week by NFP volunteers and taken to the facility. Some of the recovered items include prepackaged sandwiches and “grab and go” items like yogurt, soup, and entrees in pans.

An initiative to establish similar partnerships with food service providers at corporate cafeterias is being led by Chamber President Tensley Garris. Together with her volunteer team, efforts will be made to identify five businesses who can participate, evaluate how the program could work for them, then move into implementation.

One of the target areas will be to improve student food insecurity, as there are gaps in the food supply for children from low income families on weekends, holidays, and during school breaks. School officials estimate that nearly 400 Northbrook students are eligible for the school’s free lunch program. Combined with students at Glenbrook South, the number grows to around 1,000. Leaders from all five of Northbrook’s school districts and from many of Northbrook’s churches and synagogues are spearheading an effort to bridge the gap.

Bob Caldwell, Hallmark Homecare, will lead another pilot project that will provide eligible seniors at Crestwood Place with transportation to the Food Pantry. If successful, the program would be expanded to other clusters of seniors.

Another group of volunteers is developing a communication strategy to build awareness of the work being done and to promote the specific solutions. The communications strategy includes developing an on-line calendar to coordinate food supply and demand, identify all food supply programs, and coordinate volunteer registration. The online calendar will be a part of a larger Hunger Free Northbrook website that highlights resources and ways to get involved.

Eventually the goal will be for other communities to model what is going on in Northbrook. Fetta notes that HRN leaders will be sharing their lessons learned and presenting their story at the annual national Alliance to End Hunger Hunger Free Community Conference in Minneapolis this month. “Our goal is to connect with other communities to learn from them and share our journey.” Anyone interested in getting involved is encouraged to contact Fetta directly at hjfetta@gmail.com. For more information about HRN visit www.hungerresourcenetwork.org.

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