A few years ago, I was very impressed to catch an airing of "Growing Hope Against Hunger," a one-hour "Sesame Street" prime time PBS TV special raising awareness of the widespread issue of hunger in the United States.
The special, created as part of Sesame Workshop's Food for Thought initiative and featuring country singer Brad Paisley and his actress wife Kimberly Williams along with Elmo, Grover and The Muppets of Sesame Street, first aired on local PBS stations on Oct. 9, 2011. A portion of the program deals with food deserts, the name given to communities without local outlets for available fresh fruits, vegetables and grocery staples.
First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign was started in 2011 with much the same purpose, with the U.S. Departments of Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services investing $400 million a year "to help bring grocery stores to underserved areas."
Friday is National Garden Day and Fifth Third Bank (Chicago) has announced plans to underwrite the cost to develop, build and sustain community vegetable gardens for three community organizations in some of the area's largest food desert locations, including the North Township Trustee Office in Hammond, as well as New Beginnings Church in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood and Northwest Community Center in Rockford, Ill.
The community gardens are a component of the bank's annual food relief efforts across Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. This year, Fifth Third will donate 200,000 meals to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. And according to Robert A. Sullivan, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank (Chicago), they wanted to do more.
"By adding a sustainable component to our ongoing initiative against hunger, we're doing more than just writing a check," Sullivan said.
"We hope these gardens will inspire healthier food choices and help build unity in communities where nutritious food options have been limited and that these gardens are the first of many in the community for years to come."
According to the National Gardening Association, 35 percent of all households in America are growing food at home or in a community garden. Since 2008, there has been a 29 percent increase in food gardening by people living in urban areas and 2 million more households also reported participating in community gardening, representing a 200 percent increase.
The bank will officially present the gardens to the community groups during the staging of a special garden in the lobby of Fifth Third Center on Friday at Union Station, 222 S. Riverside, at a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Guests are invited to stop by between 7 and 10 a.m. to pick up their own seed packets and gardening consultant, Jessica Lyn Simic, will be on hand with tips and advice for starting and maintaining your own gardens. Simic will work with the community groups on the bank's behalf to harvest their gardens and offer maintenance support.