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Hunger Beat

Amid shuttered stores, free food a boon in Roseland

After recent civic unrest, community organizations in the Roseland community on Chicago's Far South Side are working to rebuild food access. For residents like Willie McCoy, a new pop-up food distribution is a nutrition lifeline.

McCoy, a widow of 37 years, has to live frugally to stretch her Social Security retirement benefits each month. She lives in a brick bungalow not far from the business corridor on 103rd Street.

The problem is there are few businesses on 103rd that remain open. Many are still boarded up after recent looting swept through the community – a contrast to the peaceful protests for racial justice that followed the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May.

Ms. McCoy’s bank is closed, as is the store where she paid her phone bill. The dollar stores where she bought food are also shuttered. With no car, she has few options.

“We’re hurting for all those stores,” said McCoy, 78. “Everything’s gone.”

Willie McCoy turned to the food distribution for sustenance after the shuttering of several local food stores.

McCoy was one of hundreds of people on a recent sunny Friday morning who turned to a new pop-up distribution in Roseland for free food. The weekly distribution, which began on June 12 and will run for six weeks, is a partnership between the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Metropolitan Family Services Calumet Center and the office of Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward.

From 10 a.m. to noon, the food giveaway takes place in the parking lot of a Dollar Tree store that had been looted and remains closed.

“There was already a food void,” said Audrena Spence, executive director of the Metropolitan Family Services Calumet Center. “Now with some of these smaller businesses having to be shut down since the incidents that happened over the past couple weeks, we had to step up as an organization to create access.”

Audrena Spence, executive director of the Metropolitan Family Services Calumet Center

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, 38 percent of the population in the Roseland community – more than 15,600 people – were at risk of food insecurity, according to Food Depository data. In general terms, food insecurity means lacking consistent access to nutritious food.

Some of the stores that are currently closed on 103rd will reopen, Beale said, but others may not.

“We’re doing everything we can and having a partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository is always a great thing,” Beale said.

Ald. Anthony Beale, on left, and state Rep. Nick Smith pose for a picture at a recent food distribution in Roseland.

State Rep. Nick Smith, D-Chicago was also on hand in support of the food giveaway. He noted the distinction between the protests, which have been mostly peaceful, and the looting, which he described as “someone taking advantage of the situation and it just caught like wildfire.”

Smith pointed down the street toward a particularly hard-hit cluster of businesses, including a closed Walgreens – another source of food in the community.

“That’s why this is so important,” Smith said. “People need to be able to have healthy food options. You can’t just rely on Church’s Chicken and Burger King. That’s not healthy.”

The food distribution, in partnership with Metropolitan Family Services Calumet Center, is held in the parking lot of a shuttered Dollar Tree store.

As part of its broader coronavirus response, the Food Depository has partnered with faith and community groups to launch new pop-up food distributions in Black and Brown communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides. Many of the communities have suffered for years from disinvestment and structural racism; they also have disproportionately high food insecurity rates.

View more images in our recent photo essay of our new partners doing extraordinary work in difficult times.

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