Answering the Call of Hunger in Chicago Suburbs

“Poverty Skyrockets in Chicago Suburbs” headlines recent findings from Heartland Alliance, a non-profit organization which advocates for those living in poverty. Their recent data show that the shift of poverty since the 1990’s has impacted suburban communities. Poverty is no longer a “problem” of the large metropolitan cities. If you live in the Chicago suburbs, it is right in your back yard.

The GardenWorks Project, a volunteer organization that builds vegetable gardens for families in need, is helping to address issues of poverty in and around DuPage County.. This county has seen its affluent status drop over the years as our poverty rates increase.  According to theHeartland Alliance poverty report, the poverty rate in DuPage County was 7.8% in 2011 – up 13.7% from 2010. Of those affected, children make up 11%.  And the number of neighbors in need continues to grow.

Living in poverty is defined as a family of four earning $23, 550. Those findings do not include the “Working Poor” – those earning or $46,000 or less. According to a 2012 Chicago Tribune report, 178,000 people in DuPage County earned under $46,000 – a meager amount for a family of four to live on. For working single parents, the situation is even worse.

This is the framework in which The GardenWorks Project has emerged in 2012. We help families who are hungry; who frequent food pantries and social service organizations; who are looking to provide for their children.

In 2013, we helped 13 families in and around Wheaton & Glen Ellyn by building home vegetable gardens and teaching them to grow food. These families, with the assistance of The GardenWorks Project volunteers, assembled raised-bed gardens, filled them with soil and compost, and planted them with organic vegetable plants and seeds. Each family was matched with a garden coach who was available to give advice and answer questions throughout the growing season.

The Glen Ellyn Food Pantry has recently experienced a 20% increase in the number of hungry families looking for food assistance. The GardenWorks Project answered their call for help by growing organic produce in a 30’x30’ community garden space donated by the Glen Ellyn Park District. The entire harvest went to serve families of the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry.

With the help of local organic growers and dedicated volunteers, we have been able to provide healthy food and fresh starts for many families in DuPage and we continue to set our sights higher. In 2014, our goal will be to serve 20 new families and continue to support families who received gardens in previous years.

We believe everyone deserves fresh, organic vegetables, and aim to teach organic home vegetable gardening in a way that promotes self-sufficiency, pride, and good stewardship of the Earth.

You can help. To learn about The Garden Works Project’s mission, upcoming events, and volunteer opportunities, please visit our website and follow us on Facebook.

Contributed by Rosemarie Freeman and Tina Koral

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