Produce Days Nourishes the Community
On a bright, cold Tuesday morning in May, a long truck backs up to the McCormick YMCA in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, its rear door sliding up to reveal a packed interior. The driver and his partner unload pallet after pallet onto the sidewalk. “Sweet potatoes,” the driver points out. “You’ve got green peppers over there,” his partner adds. “And right here’s watermelon.”
In all, the staff from the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) unloads more than 12,000 pounds of produce that will be distributed for free to almost 250 families at the McCormick Y’s monthly Produce Day.
The Y and the GCFD have been partnering in this program since 2005. “We were looking at communities where there were gaps, that didn’t have partners that could provide food,” Cecilia Roman, GCFD Compliance Supervisor states. “We knew the work you do at the Y and the impact you make, and we were grateful to create the partnership.” In addition to McCormick, the GCFD also partners with other Chicago Ys, including the Kelly Hall YMCA and the South Side YMCA.
Produce Day attendees carrying collapsible push carts, bags and boxes begin arriving as early as 6 a.m. Once the GCFD truck arrives around 7:30, it is crunch time to get the produce sorted and bagged by the official distribution time of 10:30. The event relies heavily on dedicated volunteers to ensure a successful day. Adult & Teen Challenge (ATC), a faith-based nonprofit organization with more than 100 centers nationwide, sends a team of 15-20 men each month. Matthew Atkinson, one of the ATC program members, says, “It is a beneficial day… beneficial not only to the people we are handing the produce out to, but for us to be servants to them is huge for me as an individual.” Atkinson relates to the produce recipients, and also enjoys working alongside his fellow ATC volunteers. He says, “Working together in a working relationship grows us closer, helps us work together as a team.” He also enjoys seeing familiar faces amongst the produce recipients each month.
Once each produce recipient has gotten a chance to go through the line once, there is an opportunity to go through the line a second time to select from any of the produce that is still available. This month, the watermelon has gone fast, but there are still bags of yellow onions, green peppers and carrots to choose from. As produce recipients head out of the gym, the volunteers offer assistance with carrying the heavy bags and boxes out to cars. As many of the recipients speak Spanish, Atkinson jokes that he quickly learned that pesado means heavy. “I like being one of the ones who carry the things out to cars because I feel like that’s sometimes doing the most for them one of this the most for them; some of the elderly ladies… are not able to carry things so much to their cars. I like to be of help to them by doing that.”
The recipients of Produce Day are very grateful that the program exists. Alicia Olivera has been going to Produce Day for the past year. “The food donation has helped me and my family a lot. I am able to spend the money I save buying meat.” Alicia adds, “It has helped my kids by eating more vegetables and fruits.”
By 12 p.m., the gym is empty; volunteers and produce recipients have left and the McCormick staff has cleaned up the final signs of 300 people and 6 tons of produce. This evening, dinners throughout the community will include healthy and delicious salads, side dishes and main courses. "We are really excited to partner with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to help provide food to our neighbors,” says David Rodriguez, Senior Executive Director at the McCormick YMCA. “The 10-12,000 pounds of produce we share with the community helps provide a safety net and access to food for over 250 families each month.”