Harvey King, of Chicago Heights, eats a free sandwich while a Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteer looks on at Hodges Park in Chicago Heights. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 2, 2013 6:20AM
All summer long, 14-year-old Donald Beasley and his buddies hang out in Hodges Park in Chicago Heights.
Laughing, talking, running around, playing basketball, singing the new songs by popular Chicago rapper Chief Keef ... it’s what they do.
“We’re here all day until it is dark,” Beasley said. “We crack jokes, and if we see some girls, we go over there.”
Thanks to a free lunch program sponsored by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Beasley and his friends also eat for free.
The Greater Food Depository’s lunch bus visits low-income neighborhoods in Blue Island, Calumet City, South Chicago Heights and Chicago Heights. There are two other routes running in the Chicago metropolitan area, and all of them run Mondays through Fridays from mid-June through September.
All the food given out by the truck volunteers is healthy. A typical lunch consists of a sandwich made with wheat bread, fruit, a bag of carrots and low-calorie dressing. Children also have the option of picking between regular, 2 percent and chocolate milk.
“I like the carrots and the apple,” 11-year-old Chicago Heights resident Demar White said. “The apple is sweet and the carrots are healthy.”
At each stop, the volunteers unload the packaged lunches from the 40-degree refrigerators in the back of each bus and into the eager arms of every hungry kid. On Friday, the Chicago Heights route bus unloaded 249 lunches.
Jondae Scott, an AmeriCorps volunteer who was assigned to the food truck, said the food gives the children immediate and personal gratification.
“It takes their minds off being hungry,” said Scott, a native of Chicago’s Roseland community. “It goes into providing for their self-esteem. Everybody loves to eat, everybody has the right to eat.”
Sharon Buford, of Steger, said the service helps her pay for other groceries for her two sons and daughters. They waited at Owen Pavilion Park in South Chicago Heights for their meal.
“It helps out,” Buford said. “Every child needs a nutritious meal and it’s expensive without the program.”
Country Club Hills resident and Morocco native Ali Lahiani, who volunteers on the truck, said that he was put in touch with the Greater Chicago Food Depository through a Chicago soup kitchen where he donates his time.
“In my opinion, we’re a big extended family,” Lahiani said. “Unfortunately, (all) people don’t see it like that. It’s ‘to each their own.’ ”