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Mobile Soup Kitchen Reaches Out to Today's Impoverished

Mobile Soup Kitchen Reaches Out to Today's Impoverished

Greg Burns | Chicago Tribune

Chicago has a long history of feeding the nation and feeding its hungry too.

Now, in the aftermath of a brutal recession, with the unemployment rate in the double-digits, 2010 dawns at a time of acute need and limited resources.

One old invention for addressing that problem is still in business: soup kitchens. But even the practice of delivering food to the hungry has undergone some changes.

In decades past, the Salvation Army and like-minded groups could set up shop on the old Skid Row along Madison Street or in the Uptown neighborhood to effectively target obvious pockets of poverty.

These days, the Chicago metropolitan division of the nonprofit group “has to be mobile and on the move,” said Maj. Stephen Harper, its director of pastoral care. With hungry people dispersed all over the area, mobile feeding units have proven most effective, he said: “You have to go to where they are. There is a great need.”

The economic meltdown has made the past 12 to 18 months as tough as any in Catholic Charities USA’s 100-year history, said spokesman Roger Conner.

“There’s been no turnaround and no relief into the holiday season,” he said.

That has translated into long lines at food pantries, as some one-time donors now become patrons, Conner noted. With donations scarce, weaker social-service charities have turned to his group for support as well, he said.

A recent Catholic Charities survey showed that 76 percent of the agencies in its national network have seen rising demand for food. The group headlined its most recent report, “Pantry shelves empty faster than ever.”