Soup and Bread takes a field trip

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Hideout co-owner Katie Tuten and I toured the Greater Chicago Food Depository yesterday, along with several of Katie’s coworkers from her day job at Catholic Charities. (Katie kept introducing me to people as a “miscellaneous do-gooder,” and cracking herself up.) In the photo above we are handing off $289 in grimy soup night donations to Paul Le Beau, assistant manager of Chicago’s Community Kitchens, a 12-week training program run by the GCFD that’s designed to give students basic food service skills and a leg up in the job market.

The Food Depository moved into its new digs — a sprawling, 268,000-square-foot warehouse near Midway — in 2004. The former loading dock foreman in me (no, seriously) found the scope of the operation pretty impressive, with banks of covered truck bays for both incoming and outgoing goods, an area to reclaim salvaged goods like a load of repurposed Chiquita banana boxes, giant refrigerated storage areas, and nifty conveyor belts from which armies of volunteers pluck boxes of corn flakes and cans of tuna to pack into family boxes. We didn’t notice anyone busily burning cans of peanut butter, but to my eye the main warehouse looked surprisingly (and, relatively) bare. In fact, we all remarked on how stunningly antiseptic and well-regimented the place is. I wasn’t at all surprised to find out that, before current executive director Kate Maehr came on board, the  place was run by a retired Marine, Brigadier General Michael Mulqueen. When you’re processing 46 MILLION pounds of food a year, Marine Corps training is clearly a plus.

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