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Local News

A county of contrasts

Hunger remains persistent problem

About 50 people representing social service agencies took part in the Look North Hunger Summit at the College of Lake County last week.
About 50 people representing social service agencies took part in the Look North Hunger Summit at the College of Lake County last week.

GRAYSLAKE – Lake County is one of richest counties in the state. Suburb after suburb boast plenty of pricey subdivisions.

But that's not the whole story. This is an area that ranges from hunger to affluence.

Cyril Jervis, case manager for Waukegan Township, says people need to know hunger is more prevalent in some parts of the county, such as Waukegan, Zion and Round Lake, among others. 

"We need to focus on the people who are hurting," he said. "We need to get the word out about the facts of hunger."

He spoke last week during a breakout session at the Look North Hunger Summit at the College of Lake County, where representatives of social service agencies convened.

Nearly 10 percent of Lake County's residents are "food insecure," meaning they are without enough food to support a healthy life, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit group. That rate is similar to the collar counties, but less than the 14.2 percent statewide.

Hunger extends into places such as Antioch and Lake Villa, said Marytherese Ambacher, director of the Opens Arms Mission, which serves both towns.

Summit participants were told that demand at food banks increased dramatically as the recession started in 2008. Now, it's leveled off. 

That's the same trend at Open Arms. Many people are going paycheck to paycheck, so just one incident – for instance, sickness – puts a family in a financial bind, sending them to the food bank, Ambacher said. 

Open Arms is seeing more young and elderly people.

"It's the young people just out of high school and who are not going to college. Companies streamlined and cut positions and never went back to increasing jobs. Where does that leave the next generation?" she said. 

Retirement, Ambacher said, is not paying the bills for grandparents. To make matters worse, many of them are taking care of their grandchildren, she said. 

Donna Lake of the Northern Illinois Food Bank said many agencies are finding that despite talk of an economic recovery, they are seeing increased demand at food banks. One in five kids face hunger, she said. 

Her organization has seen a 20 percent increase in food bank use over the last year, she said.

"People are taking jobs at lower wage levels," Lake said. "Others have stopped looking and their unemployment benefits have ended. The need is growing."

Jerry Banks of North Chicago Community Partners said some children miss out on their childhood when watching younger siblings because parents have to work all times of the day to provide food on the family's table. 

"We have so many adults in my middle school," Banks said, referring to the students taking on grown-up duties. 

Sandra Prez, an extension educator for the University of Illinois' 4-H Metro Youth Development, said a worker must work a job that pays roughly $28 an hour to sustain a family of four in Lake County.

"An ideal Lake County is one that has people with jobs," she said. 

Lake County Suburban Life's Luke Nozicka contributed to this report.

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