Growing a healthy community!
What started as healing circles for teens in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd has resulted in a pop-up market selling fresh produce on the west side of Chicago where a liquor store once stood. Teens from the By The Hand Kids Club, an after school program in the Austin neighborhood, worked with former Chicago Bears linebacker Sam Acho and others to build Austin Harvest.
"We talked about how we, as young teens, could give back to our community in a positive way," Jeremiah Fuller, a junior at Proviso East, told The Chicago Tribune.
Liquor stores litter the half-mile radius around the club, with little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The students knew living in a food desert surrounded by 17 liquor stores wasn't what their community needed. Acho and other Chicago athletes approached the owner of Belmonte Cut Rate Liquors, which had been looted days before the healing circles. After a week of conversations, Travis said they agreed to sell the building.
“This is what is defined as a food desert.”— Tara Molina (@TaraMolinaTV) August 19, 2020
Just months ago, this 👇🏻 was a liquor store.
One of 17 in a neighborhood with two grocery stores.
Chicago’s pro athletes, led by @TheSamAcho, are changing that and helping kids in the community along the way. @cbschicago at 10. pic.twitter.com/vjVMzQodkj
"We learned if you live within 1½ miles of a grocery store, you're likely to live longer because you have better options to eat healthier," Azariah Baker, a sophomore at Westinghouse College Prep, said. "We're providing basic necessities here that are incredibly impactful, not only with the food but with the love and hope we're also providing."
The Chicago athletes raised $500,000 to tear down the liquor store so the teens could get to work on their market and By The Hand coordinated with architects and placemaking firms to help the teens figure out how the store would look. Even The Hatchery Chicago pitched in by giving entrepreneurship training to the teens to assist in implementing their business plans.
"This is my first job," Keith Tankson, a sophomore at Steinmetz College prep told Book Club Chicago. "And also, all the trainings that we get, it's really building us so we can be entrepreneurs later on. That means we can do so much more. We don't have to just be bound to this one thing."
The teens leading the project have been encouraged by the project. After their 12-week pop-up is finished, they hope to obtain a building to develop into a full grocery store for their community.
"We're popping up with the question as to why our community doesn't look as great as everybody else's," Baker said. "This took us two months to do. We are the blueprint. So think about how much you can build off of this over time."
Acho has made it clear that Chicago is his home, even if he's not living there. He's reminded those living surrounding suburbs that they share a responsibility to acknowledge what's happening in the West and South Sides and need to follow the teen's example to create lasting change.
"Football is so transient. You're on one team this year on a different team the next year. It can feel a little bit unstable," Acho told WGN TV. "But for me and this is just facts, my reality and my stability has been coming back to this neighborhood, hanging out having a friendship with Azariah, having a friendship with the kids you'll see working at this food mart. That's been my stability. Football comes football goes, but friendships last forever."
Austin Harvest, 423 N. Laramie Ave., is open 2-6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Credit, debit and SNAP are accepted. No cash.