New Lunch Bus sites and expanded Healthy Student Markets are initial steps in an ambitious plan to connect Chicagoans with food and opportunity

It’s time for the Lunch Bus to start moving.

Maria Diaz visits the Lunch Bus with her children
Maria Diaz makes sure her children eat a healthy meal at the Lunch Bus each day.

Around 11:20 a.m. on a cloudy summer morning the Lunch Bus is stopped at Davis Square Park on Chicago’s South Side. After being there for 20 minutes distributing free meals to kids, it’s ready to pack up and head to the next site. The Lunch Bus begins to roll out, but it doesn’t get far.

A group of giggling children careen down the sidewalk, trailed by their mother. Red-faced and out of breath, 11-year-old Valeria reaches the Bus first and triumphantly proclaims, “I stopped the Lunch Bus! I stopped the Lunch Bus!”

Valeria and her four siblings have been coming to the Davis Square Park stop all summer. They try not to miss it.

“This has helped us a lot this summer,” said Maria Diaz, Valeria’s mother.

Maria stays home to take care of her children, who range in age from three to 17. Her husband works in a bakery, but he doesn’t make enough to keep the family afloat, especially when the kids are on break and don’t get free meals at school.

“It would be hard to put food on the table if it wasn’t for this,” Maria said. “We’re barely making it week-to-week.”

Maria’s family isn’t alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half of children in the Davis Square Park community live in poverty.

“There are a lot of kids who miss meals in this neighborhood.”

Maria Diaz

This is the first year the Lunch Bus has visited Davis Square Park. The site is one of two new stops at Chicago Park District locations – part of a larger partnership with the City of Chicago that was launched in June and calls for new innovations and programs to connect Chicagoans with food and opportunity.

The plan, called “Forward Together: A Roadmap to Reduce Food Insecurity across the City of Chicago,” will be implemented by a steering committee of nine City agencies and includes the launch of 20 new food access sites in high-need communities by 2020 plus additional actions to remove barriers between food insecure residents and nutritious food.

One of those actions is piloting Healthy Student Markets in Early Learning programs. This program will offer food access during drop off and pick up time from early childhood programs.

To learn more and read the full Roadmap, visit chicagosfoodbank.org/roadmap.