Miguel del Valle continued his campaign among the least Chicagoans this morning by visiting Just Harvest, a soup kitchen in that little niche of Rogers Park known officially as North of Howard, and locally as the Juneway Jungle.
The kitchen is open 365 nights a year, executive director Marilyn Pagan-Banks told del Valle, as he toured a kitchen where wrapped plates of cookies awaited Christmas dinner. In the last year, diners have increased 30 percent. Mainly, they’re working poor who have to choose between utilities and food.
During del Valle’s visit, letter carrier Nathaniel Rogers dropped off the mail.
“Sometimes, I don’t have time to cook,” Rogers said. “I bring my son. There’s always a salad. There’s always a vegetable. And my son’s favorite, there’s always a dessert.
“No one ever turns him away, saying ‘There’s the mailman,’” Pagan-Banks said.
The city does not provide direct food assistance, but as mayor, del Valle would make sure more employees are at work helping Chicagoans apply for federal programs, such as food stamps.
“My administration will work with community agencies to make sure that no Chicagoan goes hungry,” del Valle said. “We need to do a greater job to reach more people who are eligible for federal assistance, and that will bring more money into the city.”
Del Valle also vowed to support an urban agriculture ordinance that’s coming before the City Council next month. In Rogers Park, where land for growing is scarce, Just Harvest is trying to find an empty storefront for a tilapia farm. Increasing the supply of affordable housing will also allow the working poor to spend more money on food, said del Valle, a supporter of the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance.
“You have to have a comprehensive approach,” said del Valle, a past executive director of Association House, which ran a food pantry. “If all we do is provide people with a bag of food, we’re not doing enough. We also have to look at housing, jobs and education. When I’m mayor, I will never turn my back on those lacking in basic human needs like food and affordable housing.”
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