Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp. (GAGDC) distributes thousands of pounds of food to neighbors each week in the parking lot of a shuttered grocery store.

GAGDC and its collaborators recently won the $10 million Chicago Prize to build a wellness hub and urban farm campus in the neighborhood.

Hard times call for collaboration and innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different. 

In response to this health and economic crisis, our neighbors across the region are coupling traditional anti-hunger efforts like food banks and pantries with hyperlocal actions and innovative projects to feed each other. 

Neighbors have organized solidarity networks to deliver groceries and warm meals. Block clubs have popped up community fridges for people to grab free items. Gardeners are donating their plots and produce. And community coalitions are planning urban farms for sustainable food production. 

While some of these mutual aid strategies aren’t entirely new — marginalized communities have been organizing these actions for generations — there’s been an influx of groups across the region. And they’re making bold plans for the future. 

United Way is proud to support these new and ongoing efforts through our Neighborhood Network Initiative and the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. The Response Fund, launched in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust and the City of Chicago, raised more than $33 million to fund nonprofits and community organizations on the front lines of this crisis. 

With its grant, Chinese American Service League (CASL) launched a food project to distribute three culturally-appropriate meals to seniors in Chinatown each day. Since April, it’s served more than 60,000 meals!

A few miles west, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) has partnered with local chefs, growers and farms to harvest food for warm meals that are delivered to families each week. Dishes include pollo a la jardinera, loaded sweet potatoes and Caribbean paella.  

On the South Side, our partner Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation put together a weekly food drive, distributing thousands of pounds of food in the parking lot of a shuttered Save A Lot. The grocery store closed in February, just before the pandemic hit the city. 

“They decided they really didn’t want to be here; their incentives had run out, and they left,” GAGDC’s Executive Director Carlos Nelson recently told Block Club Chicago. “We decided to do the food distribution at this vacant Save A Lot as a message of turning a negative into a positive, with the hope of this becoming a fresh market store run by the community.”

Amid their day-to-day crisis responses, these community organizations have made innovative plans to outright end food insecurity and its root causes. 

Looking forward, LVEJO hopes to redevelop a vacant fire station into a community hub that houses a commercial kitchen for food-cart entrepreneurs. This initiative would stimulate the neighborhood’s economy and boost local families’ incomes. 

GAGDC also plans to build a healthy-lifestyle hub and an urban farm that is expected to produce more than 26,000 pounds of food each year. Once it’s up and running, the farm and its greenhouses will supply food to a newly-constructed marketplace, an existing mobile food-market program and local restaurants. It will also create new jobs in an area where 19 percent of workers are unemployed. 

GAGDC recently won $10 million to invest in the project, and additional support from our Neighborhood Network Initiative will help bring this vision to life. 

“In 5 to 10 years, when you come back to this intersection, you’ll see the vibrancy — kind of what it looks like [at the food distribution]: a vibrant, positive display of community support,” Carlos said. 

You can help feed our neighbors now, while backing our partners’ efforts to end food insecurity in the future. Support our Neighborhood Network Initiative today!