Program feeds hungry children in summer

July 12, 2012 (CHICAGO)

School's out, but students participating in St. Agatha Church's Family Empowerment Program on the West Side still get a nutritious lunch for free every weekday. And they are not the only ones. Any child under the age of 18 can drop in for a free breakfast or lunch -- no questions asked.

"A lot of these children will not have an opportunity to have a warm, nutritious meal if they didn't have or we didn't have a program like this," said Willie Bobbitt, executive director, S.A.F.E. "So without us there are a lot of individual children that would not be able to receive any kind of meal or definitely any kind of nutritious meal on a daily basis."

And St. Agatha's is not the only location. Parents can find the closest free meal to them by going to a new website,, and typing in their zip code or by sending a text message from their cell phone.

"We know that research shows that only 15 percent of eligible children access free meals in the state of Illinois and a lot of that is because families and children do not know that those meals are available," said Wendy McNew, Greater Chicago Food Depository. "There are numerous sites around the city that provide free meals to children 18 and under through Cook County over the summer and those meals are to help supplement the fact that they are not getting meals while in school."

The Greater Chicago Food Depository supplies the meals. Formerly unemployed and underemployed workers prepare them each day as part of a free 14-week jobs training program in food service. Participants say it's a win-win.

"I have been a tailor for the past 20 years so coming into this area is a totally different arena for me. So I knew I had to go to school to get the proper education for it," said Rachel Williams, participant. "I think the cheapest place that I went to was a little more than $23,000 a semester, I am currently unemployed and there is no way I can even afford that."

"When I heard that they do a lot of stuff for the kids and that they make like 2,500 meals a week for children. I mean to put a smile on a kid's face, that's everything," said James Gombash, participant.

If you'd like to find the closest free meal to you, there are several options. You can go to summer; you can text "food il" to 877877; or you can call 1-800-359-2163. You can also find this information on our website at

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