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Hunger hidden in plain sight

Hunger hidden in plain sight

Hunger is visible if you have the eyes to see.

While reflecting on the millions spent to make the El look better in Chicago while the infrastructure is falling apart, Chicago columnist James Warren sees another kind of infrastructure that is both neglected and falling apart: our people.


He goes to All Saint’s Episcopal Church on the North Side for coffee with the Rector, the Rev. Bonnie Perry, and finds hungry neighbors hidden in plain sight.

The Missile’s made-for-TV stagecraft at the Logan Square Blue Line stop heralded a smartly-done renovation now planned for 100 stations. But the system’s true capital needs are $10 billion, with an estimated $4.5 billion alone needed for the Red Line, during a time of declining funding from Springfield and Washington and as many are blind to mass transit’s link to economic and cultural vitality.

By coincidence, later on Tuesday I met Rector Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church on the North Side for coffee. The church is a few blocks from the Missile’s home and runs a food pantry on Tuesday evenings.

By 4 p.m., or 90 minutes before opening, 38 people were already lined up outside and 20 more were in the nave. Two weeks earlier, the pantry cooked meals for and gave out food to 406 people, a record.

Those in line constituted a diverse group racially and ethnically, mostly in their 50s and older. Most live within a half-mile of the church, itself a stone’s throw from million-dollar homes.

“You could be on the el with any of them and just not know,” Ms. Perry said of the disarmingly well-dressed group of pantry patrons.

Tom West, 45, said, “This is a necessity,” as he stood on a line the likes of which nationwide have not inspired either collective attention or concern.

Mr. West is a high school graduate and former hospital food services worker on disability. His rent is $415 a month, and he collects just under $1,200 a month in disability and food stamps.

He personifies the sobering if bloodless figures released Wednesday by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which in the past year has seen 5.1 million visits to the 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters it assists in Cook County. That’s a 60 percent increase since 2008, and staff members are stunned by what has played out.

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