The Greater Chicago Food Depository is part of a united community effort working to bring food, dignity and hope to its Cook County neighbors. They act as the hub for a network of more than 700 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs.
Chicago and Cook County
Programs & Services
The Greater Chicago Food Depository engaged Greater Good Studio at a critical point in the food bank’s work to increase the availability of nutritious prepared meals across Chicago and Cook County. As the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a historic hunger crisis, it also further exposed the inequities at the roots of poverty and food insecurity. By collaborating with Greater Good Studio, the Food Depository sought to approach its expansion of prepared meal programming in a way that would complement work already being done in the landscape.
We partnered with the Food Depository to help them in their new effort to not only feed more people through scratch-made prepared meals, but also identify the best ways to support the established, interconnected, and rapidly evolving prepared meal ecosystem that works to advance food security. Our role was to understand what the community was already doing so the Food Depository could support, not overtake or redo, the momentum on the ground.
Immersing ourselves in the emergency food community, we conducted over 45 interviews with Food Depository staff, partners, community members who have experienced food insecurity, and grassroots organizations within the emergency food ecosystem. We also visited and observed emergency food relief efforts like Love Fridges, community centers that provide meals, and even restaurants that pivoted to support hunger relief efforts in response to COVID-19.
We synthesized our research into frameworks to visualize the breadth and variety of actors involved in emergency food provision. We created four archetypes to highlight the diversity of low- or no-cost meal receivers.
Our primary research report also included insights with illustrative quotes from research participants. These themes and commonalities helped shape six guiding principles for the Food Depository to consider when moving forward with future programming, funding allocations, and collaborations.
We facilitated a virtual ideation workshop with 24 people from across Chicagoland’s emergency food ecosystem. After grounding our attendees in the insights and frameworks that emerged from our research, we brainstormed around three opportunity areas: improving prepared meal access, quality, and experience; cultivating meal providers’ ability to work better and/or together; and strengthening underlying conditions to support a resilient and equitable prepared meal ecosystem.
Our team sorted and synthesized brainstormed ideas to identify three larger spaces where the Food Depository could help make gains in ensuring food security. Within these spaces were five roles that also had a set of corresponding strategies.
Through our work together, the Food Depository had the opportunity to hear from organizations working to get meals into the community, and this ended up sparking some beautiful collaborations, including a pilot they launched with ChiFresh Kitchen.
In the summer of 2021, the Greater Chicago Food Depository collaborated with ChiFresh Kitchen to provide meals to the Production Assistants in Growing Home’s workforce development program for young adults, primarily 18-to-24-year-olds. The Food Depository worked with ChiFresh Kitchen and Growing Home to provide meals for 25 program participants, 5 days per week for 12 weeks.
While this work started as a 12-week collaboration in the summer of 2021, they have continued to explore ways to work with the ChiFresh Kitchen team to support access to meals throughout the Chicago community.
Our project delivered a framework that included 11 high-level strategies across five potential roles that the Food Depository could embody, such as Meal Manager, Infrastructure Investor, Ecosystem Integrator, Learning Facilitator, and Context Shifter.
Each strategy features specific concepts from our community ideation workshop to remind the team of the ideas that had the most support from stakeholders. The framework also highlighted other inspirational organizations that work in this space.
We designed the framework with the intention that the client would continue to refine it after our engagement ended. Our work served as a starting point to help them define the role they wanted to play within Chicago’s larger efforts to end hunger.
As part of our research synthesis, we built out profiles of different meal receivers’ unique needs and motivations. These archetypes served as an ongoing reference for the team to understand how different meal receivers and different meal providers intersect in the emergency food ecosystem.
Client & Community Outcomes
During this project, The Food Depository was going through a mindset shift to decenter themselves within the emergency food ecosystem. They recognized the critical role they play in the region, but could also tell that whatever future strategy they implemented would impact emergent, emergency food efforts developing during COVID-19 by communities themselves.
This self-awareness helped them shift mindsets from focusing on being the central hub of an emergency food ecosystem to that of a partner and support to other emerging food providers in the area.
We are thrilled. Greater Good Studio worked with our team and the larger emergency food community to build a foundational framework for how the Food Depository can make the greatest impact with prepared meal programs. We’ve been working with momentum and energy since our engagement to launch pilots and have focused on the spaces and roles where we are most needed.Kate Maehr