Since she was 6, Jalissa Bowers has spent countless afterschool hours at the Boys and Girls Club just down the street from where she lives in Humboldt Park on Chicago’s West Side.
Portrait of Jalissa Bowers
Jalissa Bowers

It was there that Bowers found friendship, inspiration and something else – her own voice. Once a shy girl, the now-15-year-old exudes confidence and poise. Officially known as the Union League Boys & Girls Club – Miguel Barreto, many of the kids simply call it “The Club.”

When she needed it, Bowers also found food. In partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Barreto club serves afterschool meals to about 500 children each weekday during the school year. During the summer, the club serves about 250 kids breakfast and lunch through the Food Depository’s summer meal program.

When donors support the Food Depository, they’re uplifting young Chicagoans by making sure they have food to fuel their dreams.

“We’ve had kids come in here in a bad mood. Sometimes they can’t even pinpoint what it is. And I see that turnaround after they get some food in their system.”

Rosita Correa, program director at the Union League Boys & Girls Club – Miguel Barreto

In fiscal year 2019, the Food Depository offered after school and summer meals for children at 305 sites. Additionally, the Food Depository provided healthy groceries for students and their families at 40 Healthy Student Markets.

“I have a lot of friends that I grew up with who don’t have the resources they need, whether it’s food or like someone to tell them they did a good job even,” said Bowers, who also plays volleyball and writes poetry.

“I think what this (meal) program is doing for us is a really big help,” Bowers said.

The child poverty rate in Humboldt Park is 41 percent, which is significantly higher than the 27 percent rate for Chicago and more than double the rate for Cook County, according to community Census data tracked by the Food Depository.

“We’ve had kids come in here in a bad mood. Sometimes they can’t even pinpoint what it is. And I see that turnaround after they get some food in their system,” said Rosita Correa, program director at Barreto.

The food sustains the children as they chase down their dreams.

“When a kid isn’t eating or getting the things they need at home, it could cause emotional problems,” said Jada McGarry, 19, who helps run the club’s science program. “I think it’s really beneficial to have these food programs in a place where they can relax and be themselves.”