A Message from our Retiring Board President

I recently retired from The Friendship Center Board after twenty-five years, and I have been reflecting upon all that evolved during that time. Much changed, but much did not. The food pantry operated from five different locations; there were six different directors; there must have been at least sixty Board members; and we added a hot meal program, homebound delivery program, and a pet food pantry. What never changed was the amazing dedication of the directors, employees, volunteers, board members, and donors. Their compassion, vision, and hard work are what made The Friendship Center so special and impactful. Sadly, what also never changed was the compelling need for the services The Friendship Center provides. Even in the best of economic times, many still live on the edge for a variety of reasons. And recessions, government policy changes, pandemics, and inflation only exacerbate food insecurity. Fortunately, the Board, executive leadership, and financial supporters have put The Friendship Center in the best position it has ever been in.

It has been an honor and rewarding to be a part of this history, and I plan to stay involved in other ways for as long as I can. Please continue to help those in need as The Friendship Center expands and improves its services to clients. Thanks to all of you.

Respectfully,

Ted Helwig


About the author:

Ted Helwig has served on The Friendship Center board for 25 years. Now retired, he practiced law in Chicago for 40 years, the last three-plus decades at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP and the first nine in the federal government as law clerk to a federal judge and then a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Ted served on the board of Legal Aid Chicago from 2004-2019. He and his wife, Dawn, are long-time members of North Park Covenant Church, which founded The Friendship Center food pantry in 1969. 

Food Waste Reduction Efforts at The Friendship Center

Earth Day is April 22, and Stop Food Waste Day is April 27, so it seems like a perfect time to highlight the issue of food waste and the ways that The Friendship Center is working to reduce wasted food while improving service for our clients.

Food waste has enormous environmental, ethical, and economic impacts. According to ReFED, a whopping 35% of all food in the U.S. was either unsold or uneaten in 2019, representing $408 billion worth of food. When food is wasted it also wastes all the land, water, energy, labor, and love that goes into producing it. And when food decomposes in landfills, it generates greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. In fact, food waste accounts for 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

This level of food waste is happening at the same time that 1 out of 6 Americans struggle with food insecurity. Within The Friendship Center’s service territory, 1 in 3 people, or 66,000 of our neighbors, are food-insecure.

While there are many systemic reasons for this disconnect, food waste is a solvable problem. The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy suggests that beyond source reduction (prevention), the best option for reducing food waste is to Feed Hungry People, which, of course, is our mission at The Friendship Center.

The Friendship Center currently rescues and redistributes unsold, high quality food from a handful of local retailers to augment our inventory. Donations include meat, fresh produce, dairy, baked goods , and shelf-stable items.

Even more exciting is that with our new grants from Swedish Covenant Hospital and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, The Friendship Center is currently renovating our facility.  Increasing our cold storage capacity and acquiring a new van will allow us to significantly expand our food rescue efforts and increase the amount and variety of culturally-relevant foods we can offer our clients.

Farther down the Food Recovery Hierarchy is composting, which is one more way that The Friendship Center is working to reduce food waste. Composting is a way of recycling food scraps and turning them into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Foods in our inventory that go past their prime, as well as food scraps from our hot meals prep, are placed in toters out back and collected weekly by a compost collection service.

The Friendship Center is looking forward to expanding our food rescue efforts in the future– for the health of our neighbors and the health of our planet.

 – Susan Casey


About the author:

Susan Casey has served on The Friendship Center board since April 2021. She is the Zero Waste Schools Program Manager at the nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead, where she works with K-12 schools to reduce waste. Susan is a member of the Wasted Food Action Alliance and the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition.

One Volunteer’s Experience at The Friendship Center

What is three hours? That is how much time I spend building food boxes for senior and home-bound clients at The Friendship Center (TFC) every Saturday. It is humbling and heartwarming to see the program’s transformation. What started as one packer working with three drivers to deliver groceries for roughly 30 clients monthly has blossomed into three volunteer packers building boxes for a dozen drivers who hand-deliver groceries to more than 75 clients monthly.

When the pandemic started, I was working at a local Alderman’s office, where we launched a weekly Call Crew to check on seniors and connect them to resources. These calls quickly exposed vulnerable seniors in the ward who were rationing their food because they did not have access to safe forms of transportation or the financial means to restock via grocery delivery apps. Coming from a nonprofit background where you solve problems on a zero budget, I knew I had to tap into my network. TFC delivered – seeing the program go from me emailing Ross Outten every Friday a laundry list of names of those in need and him serving as both packer and delivery driver to coming on as the program’s first volunteer was a tremendous honor.

I hypothesize that many of you reading this feel similarly about the time and treasures you give to TFC. There is a dedicated group that secures and distributes pet food every third Saturday, which allows us to include it for Home Delivery clients with four-legged companions. Others reading this help TFC by hosting food drives that enable us to build boxes catered to each person’s specific dietary preferences and needs, including microwave meals and easy-to-open cans. To everyone who supports TFC in one form or another, know that your unique impact causes a positive ripple.

-Jesi Peters


About the author:

Jesi Peters was The Friendship Center’s first Home Delivery volunteer and packs boxes for clients every Saturday. Jesi lives in Chicago with her beloved cat, Tommy, and is the new Director of Development for Tree House Humane Society, one of our Pet Food Pantry partners.

The Intersection Between Hunger and Nutrition

March is National Nutrition Month, which is a time to reflect and learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits. Developing healthful eating habits, however, is often on the backburner or an unrealistic goal for families facing hunger. A growing body of research shows that food insecurity increases risk for poor nutrition and diet-related diseases, as well as imposes barriers to chronic disease management.

Food insecurity is often associated with a lower nutrient intake as well as a lower intake of fruits and vegetables.

Hunger is linked to poor nutrition for various reasons, including:

  • limited resources to obtain healthy foods
  • a lack of access to healthy, affordable foods
  • a lack of kitchen equipment to preserve and cook food
  • cycles of food deprivation and overeating
  • high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
  • fewer opportunities for physical activity

While adequate food intake is important for everyone, it is especially important for children, whose bodies are still developing. A 2021 study compared the nutritional status of food-secure children and food-insecure children aged 1-18 years. It was found food insecure children had a lower quality diet with an increased intake of sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars than the recommended amount. Additionally, food insecure children were at higher risk for inadequate intake of vitamin D and magnesium.

Knowing that we must consider our patient’s unmet social needs in order to improve their overall health, Swedish Hospital’s Food Connections programs partners with The Friendship Center to remove food access as a barrier to health.

The Food Connections programs provide emergency food to patients in need, works to connect patients to community resources such as The Friendship Center for long term food support, and provides free nutrition education to food insecure patients, staff and community members. Together we are ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable, healthy food sources and improving their long-term health. 

-Amanda Kritt, RD LDN


About the Author:

Amanda Kritt is the Food Connections Coordinator at Swedish Hospital.

The Friendship Center Food Pantry to Partner with NorthShore University HealthSystem to Transform Pantry and Support More Neighbors in Need

$200,000 from NorthShore’s Community Investment Fund will accelerate strategies to serve Chicago’s food insecure at scale with respect and dignity 

[Chicago] – February 28, 2022 – The Friendship Center, a food pantry on Chicago’s northwest side, today announced receipt of $200,000 from NorthShore’s Community Investment Fund (CIF) to improve the way it serves its neighbors facing hunger by modernizing its facility and increasing mobile capacities to provide needed resources across its area neighborhoods. As one of the first to partner with NorthShore through its CIF, the organizations will work collaboratively to reduce the stigma associated with visiting a food pantry and to increase stability in the lives of those facing food insecurity. 

“Food insecurity in our communities has reached new levels because of COVID and high inflation. Unfortunately, these economic shocks will be felt for years. This investment will allow us to quickly evolve to better meet the sustained need in a number of ways,” said Justin Block, Executive Director of The Friendship Center.

NorthShore, including Swedish and Northwest Community Healthcare, selected The Friendship Center as one of seven local organizations across Lake and Cook Counties to collaborate on programs that enhance health and wellbeing, advance health equity and support local economic growth. As a prominent feature of their recently finalized merger, NorthShore and Edward-Elmhurst Health each committed $100 million, which will generate millions of dollars annually, to benefit their respective communities. 

“We all must play a greater role in environmental stewardship and The Friendship Center is on the front lines of our health sustainability efforts by supporting food insecure populations to improve overall care, quality and safety within our communities,” said Gabrielle Cummings, President, NorthShore Legacy Acute Care and Highland Park Hospital. 

The Friendship Center will use the investment to benefit the people it serves by transforming its facility into a welcoming, normalized grocery shopping experience; by increasing access to available helpful benefits, information, and services; by optimizing its onsite storage capacity; and by becoming more flexible with mobile distributions. NorthShore-Swedish and The Friendship Center currently partner to provide nutrition classes and COVID-19 vaccine awareness information to The Friendship Center clients, and to supply groceries to The Cupboard, the onsite food pantry at NorthShore-Swedish.

“Our Community Investment Fund is built on the principle that the more we connect and invest in our communities, the better we all become,” added Cummings. “We aim to be a true catalyst for change—putting our talents, unique capabilities and resources to work by collaborating with local organizations, like The Friendship Center, through creative partnerships for the benefit of our communities.” 

To learn more about NorthShore’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Community Investment Fund, click here

About The Friendship Center

Founded in 1969, The Friendship Center is a non-sectarian, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization providing groceries for 2,000 residents every month in the Albany Park, Lincoln Square, North Park, Ravenswood, and West Ridge neighborhoods of Chicago and Lincolnwood. The food pantry is accessible four days a week and provides a hot meal service Thursday evenings, as well as homebound grocery delivery service. The Friendship Center also hosts a pet food pantry once per month. The Friendship Center also supports programming to reduce food waste and improve food security for the people it serves; educates the public about the issue of hunger; and improves access to resources that protect people from going hungry. Visit friendshipcenterchicago.org, or find us on Facebook, Instagram or follow us on Twitter.

About NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health is a fully integrated healthcare delivery system committed to providing access to quality, vibrant, community-connected care, serving an area of more than 4.2 million residents across six northeast Illinois counties. Our more than 25,000 team members and more than 6,000 physicians aim to deliver transformative patient experiences and expert care close to home across more than 300 ambulatory locations and eight acute care hospitals – Edward (Naperville), Elmhurst, Evanston, Glenbrook (Glenview), Highland Park, Northwest Community (Arlington Heights) Skokie and Swedish (Chicago) – all recognized as Magnet hospitals for nursing excellence. Located in Naperville, Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, provides for the mental health needs of area residents. For more information, visit NorthShore.org, SwedishCovenant.org, NCH.org and EEHealth.org

Current Covid Policies

Chicago lifted its mask mandate, effective Feb 28th, 2022. Key metrics the City used to track COVID-19 cases and hospital capacity since early in the pandemic have all reached the pre-defined “lower” risk category, meaning they have been in an acceptable lower risk range for a long enough time period. This is encouraging news!

Food businesses like grocery stores are now mask optional, but congregate settings like homeless shelters are still mask mandated. Many Chicagoans will continue to wear masks in public spaces for a variety of reasons, even if they are vaccinated. The Friendship Center sits somewhere in the middle, since we rely on volunteers and serve a population that may be under-vaccinated.

Taking these components into consideration, we are adopting a split policy: if you are a client, a volunteer or staff engaging with one, or in the walled-in shopping area, we request you wear a mask. If you are a volunteer or staff and serving behind that front line, masks are optional.

To further mitigate risk and create a safer space, we are partnering with both Swedish Hospital and Heartland Heath Centers to provide vaccine availability information and updated COVID facts to our clients. While the weather is still cold, it will be via flyers in grocery boxes, but as it warms up, we’ll invite those partners onsite to answer questions. We have also located 300 at-home COVID-19 test kits, soon to be made available for distribution and onsite for anyone displaying symptoms.

If community transmission rates increase or other factors dictate, we will continue to stay flexible in these policies and revise as needed. We will keep this page current so continue to check back to see if any changes have been made to our Covid policies.

Thanks again for your partnership in supporting our neighbors facing hunger!

Best regards,

Justin Block, Executive Director