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CHICAGO (AP) -- The Greater Chicago Food Depository has opened one of the largest food banks in the country. Officials say it will distribute about 80 million pounds of food each year to hundreds of agencies that help the needy.

The $30 million facility, on the city's Southwest Side, also houses Chicago's Community Kitchen, where unemployed or underemployed people learn about working in industrial kitchens. There is also Pantry University, where member agencies' volunteers and workers are trained.

It also houses a preparation center where as many as 2,500 meals can be prepared a day. Also, it has an "agency shopping mart" for member agencies.

The facility will allow the depository to nearly double the 42.3 million pounds of food -- or 87,100 meals a day -- it sent to member agencies during the last fiscal year.

Further, said Michael Mulqueen, the depository's executive director, the facility will not cost any more to operate than the depository's previous home. He explained that because the facility was less than half as large as the new one, the depository was forced to spend a lot of money to rent warehouse space to store food.

"As magnificent as this facility is, it's only a means to an end," said Mulqueen. "This is only a tool for us to feed hungry people in this community much more efficiently. ... We're striving to end hunger in our community."

The opening of the 268,073-square-foot-facility comes at a time when the demand is apparently growing. Last year, the depository distributed about 30 percent more food than it did five years ago.

The food depository was established in 1979 by Tom O'Connell of Chicago. In the first year, he and five others sent 471,000 pounds of food to 85 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens.

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