"This is a very personal issue," said Tammy Duckworth (Congresswoman, 8th District of Illinois) to a large group of suburban community human service providers in Arlington Heights, "because I was hungry as a child." Congresswoman Duckworth's father struggled for four years to find a job when she was growing up in Hawaii. "We lived on food stamps and school lunches."
Elaine Nekrtiz, (State Representative, 57th State Legislative District), joined Congresswoman Duckworth in August at the roundtable, convened by Jewish Child and Family Services (JCFS) and Jewish Federation Government Affairs. They came to hear about hunger and poverty among their constituents.
The 8th Congressional District covers the northwest and western suburbs and is considered economically well-off. However, the poverty rate increased from 5.3 percent in 2000 to 9.2 percent in the 2007 to 11 time periods, according to a recent Pew Charitable Trust Report, tracking increases in poverty throughout the country.
Hunger brings with it an increasing demand on food pantries, soup kitchens, and home delivered food boxes, all traditionally provided by synagogues and other charitable organizations. "We see domestic violence victims at risk of returning to their abusers because they can't feed their children, underemployed and unemployed adults, the elderly, and divorced single parents not receiving child support," said Amy Rubin, director of Community Services for JCFS, talking about hunger in the Jewish community. The JCFS office in Arlington Heights partners with Temple Chai in Long Grove to secure food for their clients through the synagogue's food pantry.
This year, the Jewish Federation is sponsoring the JUF Hunger Awareness Project to raise awareness and mobilize volunteers in the area of hunger and food insecurity. For more information, visit www.juf.org/hunger.
Suzanne Strassberger is the associate vice president of Government and Community Partnerships for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.