Supporting Hunger Action Month

Heartland Alliance’s vision is to achieve equity and opportunity for all. We believe that by ensuring everyone in society has access to safety, health, housing, education, economic opportunity and justice, individuals are better equipped to exit poverty and achieve stability. As part of health and well-being, there is a critical need for proper food and nutrition.

According to Feeding America, over 40 million people are struggling with hunger. This number includes 12 million children. Often these families have to make a choice between keeping the lights on or feeding their family, or paying a medical bill or buying food.

Throughout the year and especially during September – Hunger Action Month – Heartland Alliance provides supports for those who are hungry.  Laura Ritland Samnadda, Heartland Alliance Health’s Food and Nutrition Manager, has dedicated her career to helping others escape the daily crisis of food insecurity.

“People with food insecurity tend to struggle with housing, transportation, medical bills, employment, and overall poverty. But they might also be your neighbor who just lost a job and is just trying to get by paying the rent and utilities – it could literally be anyone at this point.”

Over the past three decades, one of Heartland Alliance’s primary goals has been to end hunger for as many individuals as possible – helping people achieve not only their health and nutrition goals, but achieving overall life goals as well.

To increase healthy food and nutrition options for participants, we employ a team of traveling dietitians that provide community-wide cooking classes, as well as partner with agencies like the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Heartland Human Care Service’s FarmWorks urban farm.  Additionally, we have an advocacy team who promotes stronger food assistance programs, and a city-wide system of food pantries, known as Vital Bridges, dedicated to serving some of the most at-risk populations.

Vital Bridges is a participant choice site – meaning that the pantries don’t want to have people walk away with food they aren’t going to use. We are especially focused on creating a welcoming atmosphere for those who need our services, so that visitors are encouraged by the options provided.

Heartland Alliance Health Community Dietician Elizabeth Murphy believes strongly in that approach.

“Everybody deserves access to food – not just any food, but good, healthy food that nourishes you. A lack of access to food is connected with environment and social factors that can keep people unhealthy or unsafe.”

According to the National Education Association, hungry children have lower math scores, and are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss it entirely. These adverse experiences can compound and if hunger continues to ensue,  the likelihood of escaping poverty decreases. According Bertha Segura De Gonzalez, coordinator for the Vital Bridges food pantries, the question of who eats in a household is a question asked far too often.

“Often times, we are the only source of food for the people we serve. A participant will feed their children before eating, sometimes there are no leftovers for the participant to eat.”

Shopping in our pantries is only the first step to healthier outcomes.  Our staff are quick to work together to provide more access to supports for the participant. Oftentimes, we are able to connect them with other Heartland Alliance programming – using our housing, healthcare, or employment services to help them find safety and stability.

At Heartland Alliance, we prefer to focus on the “action” part of Hunger Action Month and according to Samnadda, there are many ways for all of us to take a stand for those who are food insecure.

“Advocate, donate, and volunteer.  The final version of the Farm Bill that houses SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other feeding programs is being voted on soon.  Please call or write your representatives and ask them to protect SNAP. “

Supporters also can join us as we near our annual Harvest for Hope food drive. This year, our food and nutrition team is especially in need of financial support.  As we strive to continue providing choice and flexibility for our participants, funds raised allow the staff to buy food and personal care items for specific individuals and families as needed.  Please click here or contact Celeste Johnson for more information – (312) 660-1390,

Meet Heartland Alliance’s Food and Nutrition Manager Laura Ritland Samnadda

Laura Ritland Samnadda is Heartland Alliance’s Food and Nutrition Manager.  She has seen firsthand just how powerfully the fear of hunger can affect a person’s well-being.  Her efforts to provide access to healthy food and nutritional counseling have benefited countless participants. A dietitian and humanitarian at heart, she finds hope in the very people she serves.

What got you into this work?

As a dietitian, I worry about the food people have access to and the choices they have to make living in a food desert.  Getting a chance to serve individuals who need services like the ones I provide has always been the goal.

Why is this work important to the community? To the people we serve?

According to 2016 Map the Meal Gap data, there are over 1.4 million Illinoisans experiencing hunger every day.  That’s 1 in 9 people.  But when you look at Cook County specifically, those numbers turn into 1 in 7 people.  What we know is that food insecurity and poverty go hand-in -hand and affects people in every neighborhood.

Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?

I remember one participant who came to Vital Bridges and told me that he didn’t know when he was going to eat again.  He was older and frail, and he showed me how his belt was tightened to the last notch of his belt to hold up his pants.  He didn’t qualify for SNAP.  Seeing him struggle with hunger was incredibly difficult, yet I felt proud that we were there for him when he needed food.  This same participant still comes to our food pantry and he’s happy, vibrant, and at a healthy weight.  He sees the dietitians monthly for a check-in and vitamins.


What is your favorite part of your job?

I’m so grateful to be a part of the food and nutrition team at Heartland Alliance Health – who provides food and nutrition services to people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and other chronic diseases.  We have three food pantries a part of the Vital Bridges food program that serves people who are living with HIV and AIDS. These pantries are located in Englewood, West Garfield Park, and Edgewater. These three communities have food insecurity rates of 20-57.8% of residents. Knowing that we are making a difference for those who need it most is all I need!

How can others help your work?

Advocate, donate, and volunteer.  The final version of the Farm Bill that  houses SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other feeding programs is being voted on soon.  Please call or write your representatives and ask them to protect SNAP.

Donating items to our food programs is always helpful, and you also can volunteer at our food pantries.

Englewood Neighborhood Welcomes New Community Health Center

Heartland Alliance Health Provides Vital Services for South Side Community

HAH Executive Director Ed Stellon and U.S. Representative Danny Davis cut the ribbon at the new Englewood Health Center

Chicago, July 20 — Today, Heartland Alliance Health (HAH), part of Heartland Alliance, celebrates with Chicago’s Englewood community to welcome the neighborhood’s newest community health center. An acknowledgement ceremony featuring local officials and community partners, as well as a family fun fair commemorated the occasion.

Located at 5501 S. Halsted St., the fully-operational health center opened to the public in the spring, and is Heartland Alliance Health’s third center in Chicago. The 7,900 square foot facility offers a full spectrum of services including: primary care, behavioral health/psychiatry, substance use treatment, insurance assistance, a pharmacy, lab and assistance with applying for housing through Chicago’s coordinated entry system as well as other supportive services. Showers and laundry machines are onsite and available for participant use.

Located in a part of Chicago that has experienced the closing of other healthcare agencies – and in the heart of a pharmacy desert – Heartland Alliance Health’s new facility increases access to care and provides quality and affordable services to everyone including individuals, families, those who are unstably housed, veterans, and those living with chronic medical conditions such as HIV & AIDS.

“We believe healthcare is a human right and that everyone deserves access to comprehensive services, including primary care and behavioral health – it is critical to helping people thrive and prosper,” said Ed Stellon, Heartland Alliance Health, executive director. “We are thrilled to share that we’ve cared for nearly 500 participants since the health center opened, and we look forward to becoming an even stronger resource as we work together to create a healthy community.”

The realization of the HAH Englewood community health center was made possible through the support of many strong corporate, philanthropic and community partners. Access to funding made available by Northern Trust and IFF was integral to the project’s success.

For over 30 years, Heartland Alliance Health has been providing strengths-based, trauma-informed healthcare for all, regardless of citizenship or health insurance status. Last year, the organization served more than 9,000 participants and community members at existing locations in Uptown and West Loop. The new community health center expands the grocery and nutrition services that HAH’s Vital Bridges Food Pantry has been providing for decades in the Englewood community at 151 W. 75th St.

About Heartland Alliance

Heartland Alliance, one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, works in communities in the U.S. and abroad to serve those who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety. It provides a comprehensive array of services in the areas of health, housing, jobs and justice – and leads state and national policy efforts, which target lasting change for individuals and society.

About Heartland Alliance Health
Heartland Alliance Health is a community health organization dedicated to transforming care for the most vulnerable—particularly people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, substance use issues or struggling with multiple chronic illnesses—improving health for all and for the well-being of our community. We believe everyone has a right to healthcare. To partner with Heartland Alliance Health, contact Katy Kelleghan or visit


Heartland Alliance’s Past, Present and Future in Englewood

Heartland Alliance believes society is better for everyone when all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. And as a community health organization, we are dedicated to transforming care for the most vulnerable – particularly people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, substance use issues or struggling with multiple chronic illnesses – improving health for all and for the well-being of our community.

Our healthcare work in Englewood began 20 years ago, when we opened up our South Side Vital Bridges food pantry for those living with HIV/AIDs. In 2016, we began expanding services and developed a “pop-up” health center and medical outreach team, dedicated to providing on-sight healthcare services to 15 local shelters in Chicago’s south side.

“Outreach is probably the most important part of our job. It’s where participant engagement begins, in the space that is comfortable to the person we are trying to serve,” said Sarah Dickson, Heartland Alliance Health Nurse Practitioner. “It’s where people begin to trust, and where they begin to heal.” That very outreach has shown a tremendous need for health services in the community, as the area has a greater incidence rate of heart disease and diabetes, and fewer cancer screenings. In fact, because of the poverty, and the lack of accessible and affordable healthcare, Englewood and the surrounding communities have a lower life expectancy versus the rest of Chicago. There are 58 percent more low-income people in Englewood when compared to Chicago, and they have 16 percent less access to healthcare. 

Heartland Alliance’s Philosophy and New Englewood Health Center

Last July, we broke ground on our Englewood Health Center. Englewood is a community that has increased presence of homelessness, with limited access and resources dedicated to healthcare. Over the past nine months, HAH has worked to build a health center that will address many of the health-related issues people in the community often face – including primary medical, substance use treatment, mental health/psychiatry, insurance assistance, medical case management, specialty referral care, and chronic disease management including HIV/AIDS care.

But what sets Heartland Alliance Health apart from many other health care organizations is its commitment to trauma-informed, strengths-based philosophy that allows patients to take control of their health goals.

“We continuously practice our strengths-based approach by taking into account peoples’ choices and have participants lead us,” said Joan Liautaud, HAH Senior Director of Clinical Operations.

Through compassionate practices and a spectrum of mental and behavioral health services, Heartland Alliance Health works to help individuals build lasting, meaningful lives. Our thirty years of experience working with hard to reach populations has developed in us a solid understanding of the need for housing-first policies and harm-reduction practices.

 “Our first focus is to provide support to individuals and their decisions. I think the basic premise of both the housing first and harm reduction philosophy is that we get people off of the street as soon as possible. Our responsibility is to try to help bring the indiviudal along to be more successful by helping to reduce barriers.”

And now, Heartland Alliance Health is proud to have the resources to do that at a much larger scale in the heart of Englewood. The 7,900 square foot building is has ten exam rooms, two triage rooms, and a soon-to-be pharmacy. Additionally, the building provides showers and laundry to support people who are homeless or unstably housed. Heartland Alliance Health also provides insurance assistance and counseling. 

In partnership with different community groups including Teamwork Englewood, R.A.G.E., and Whole Foods Englewood, Heartland Alliance Health has been connecting with community members in an effort to build trust and long-lasting relationship with the people they intend to serve for years to come.

We are thrilled to open a permanent solution for those living in the community by opening our third Chicago health center. Be sure to tell friends, family, and neighbors we are ready to serve you!

The Heartland Alliance Health Englewood Health Center is open Monday through Friday 8:30 AM- 5:00 PM. Appointments can be made by calling 773-275-2586 and walk-ins are welcome.

Heartland Alliance Health Englewood Health Center
5501 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60621

Heartland Alliance Health Promotes Well-being in Englewood

The Englewood neighborhood is a buzz around the March 20 opening of the Health Center located at 5501 S. Halsted Street. In anticipation of this much needed addition to the community, team members have been in full effect throughout the neighborhood during the month of February. In partnership with different community groups including Teamwork Englewood and Whole Foods, Heartland Alliance Health (HAH) is poised for a successful opening with a number of participant appointments already scheduled!

In addition to HAH outreach teams canvassing the neighborhood and spreading the word, community members got to learn more and engage with staff who provided informational materials and promotional giveaways at the Englewood Whole Foods location. Additionally, people visiting the store were invited to attend a healthy fare cooking demonstration presented by a HAH dietician where attendees learned to prepare Thai peanut chicken zucchini noodles.

Shoppers also had another way to engage with Heartland Alliance through Whole Foods’ cause marketing promotion, Soap for Good. From February 21-27, Whole Foods stores throughout Chicagoland sold Alafia’s Good Soap for just $1. During this time, shoppers could buy a bar of soap for themselves and another for Heartland Alliance. To make it even better, each Whole Foods store will match the soap donated to Heartland Alliance, up to 100 bars. Whole Foods’ 13 Chicagoland area stores will be contributing nearly 5,000 bars for participants in need, with the Englewood store leading the area in sales and donations.

The Heartland Alliance Health Englewood Health Center is slated to open March 20, 2018 with office hours of Monday through Friday 8:30 AM- 5:00 PM. Appointments can be made by calling 773-275-2586 and walk-ins are welcome.