Jackie Kabir, director of the New Life Covenant Church Southeast food pantry, noticed that one of her delivery clients had stopped ordering food.

Kabir knew the client was going through cancer treatment, so she gave her a call to see how she was doing. The woman told Kabir that she stopped ordering groceries from the pantry because she no longer had the strength to cook.

“She asked if I knew of any places that delivered prepared meals,” Kabir said. “Later that same day, I received an email about the Food Depository’s prepared meal pilot program. I jumped at the opportunity and called my client to share the good news.”

In partnership with the Food Depository, Kabir sent her client a two-week supply of prepared meals to try – a rotation of five different entrees prepared in the Food Depository’s production kitchen.

“She called me back so grateful, the food tasted good, didn’t make her sick and was just the right size for her. She is now back on our delivery list as a regular,” Kabir said.

This year, the Food Depository will embark on a strategy to expand prepared meal programming. In late 2019, plans were announced to construct a new, adjacent facility dedicated to meal preparation. Groundbreaking was delayed due to our pandemic response but will commence in 2022 with plans for the facility to be operational in 2023.

The new facility will vastly expand the Food Depository’s output of prepared meals, while the overall strategy will also include collaboration with existing community-based meal providers.

“This takes our mission to another level.”

Herman Carnie, director of meal operations

In the past fiscal year, the Food Depository has prepared more than 225,000 nutritious prepared meals. The Food Depository’s meal operations team begins each day at 5 a.m. in the production kitchen. Approximately 600 meals are prepared each day, including 300 hot meals that are warmed each morning and loaded into temperature-controlled boxes. These meals are delivered by AgeOptions to older adult households throughout Proviso Township in the west suburbs. In the future, the Food Depository hopes to expand to more partners as our capacity grows.

All meals are now prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients and recipes guided by Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) – a diet that limits sodium and saturated fat intake while boosting potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein. Menus include basil garlic chicken, dill tuna salad, roasted salmon, whole grain pasta, fresh salads and more.

“We’re serving people who face hunger but also have unique health concerns,” Carnie said. “It’s important to make nutritious meals that look great and taste great.”

As we await the opening of our new facility, meal preparation will continue in the Food Depository’s production kitchen. There will be an immediate expansion focused on medically tailored meals, each individually prepared to support dietary needs identified by a healthcare provider. Throughout this evolution, the Food Depository’s meal operations team continues to offer employment opportunities for graduates of our workforce development programs.

Because of supporters like you, we were able to take this program to the next level and make plans to continue that growth. Thank you for helping us serve more vulnerable populations now and in the years to come.