AUSTIN — As the city takes precautions against the spread of the coronavirus, public health officials have warned residents to practice social distancing— and that means staying home as much as possible and avoiding large groups and gatherings.
Meanwhile, the hoarding of food and supplies has caused shortages that make it difficult for some to access the things they need to stay healthy, especially in areas like the West Side that lack grocery stores where many people experience food insecurity.
But many organizations on the West Side are gearing up to make sure that low-income residents and especially seniors vulnerable to the virus have access to affordable and healthy food without putting themselves at risk.
Even as their produce stands and monthly pop-up markets are being canceled out of an abundance of caution, Austin-based Forty Acres Fresh Market will remain an affordable option for fresh food — they’ll deliver.
“It was a really hard decision to close,” said founder Liz Abunaw, but the market will continue its delivery service instead of in-person markets. “You don’t have to go out, we’ll bring it to you. It’s a lot safer. We understand that food is a critical need at this time.”
Forty Acres Fresh Market delivers fresh produce citywide Monday through Friday between 7-10 p.m. and on weekends from 6-10 p.m.
Customers can choose from a range of up to 60 varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables including avocados, bananas, citrus, asparagus, greens, brussels sprouts, corn, cucumbers and eggplant. The market also offers prepackaged fruit and veggie boxes of different sizes from $5 to $15 that includes a hefty selection of produce at affordable prices.
Abunaw said the virus outbreak makes it especially important to prioritize wellness in neighborhoods that already experience health disparities like the 16-year life expectancy gap between parts of the West Side and Downtown.
“If your neighborhood isn’t well-resourced by grocery stores, it’s just that much harder to get the food that you need, especially the healthy foods that boost your immune system like fresh foods and vegetables,” Abunaw said.
Likewise, social service organization Marillac St. Vincent recommends that older adults who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus utilize their Homebound Elderly program, which delivers groceries to seniors at their home and can mitigate the risk of exposure to the virus.
“We’re continuing that program. It’s making sure that folks that are underserved and lack this access can still get the food they need,” said Stephen Barker, spokesman for Marillac St. Vincent. Seniors interested in the program can call 773-584-3265 for more information.
Barker also recommended that low-income residents take advantage of the organization’s food pantry on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2859 W. Jackson Blvd.
But while most pantries including Marillac’s will remain open, some are adjusting their services to respond to the outbreak. People can call the Greater Chicago Food Depository at 773-247-3663 for help connecting to the right food pantry and for details on hours and service changes.
Many food pantries are exploring changes to their model to make sure people can get food without waiting in lines or being exposed to crowds that could put them at risk. Instead of a grocery store model, some pantries are moving to pre-packaged food boxes so people can grab them and go.
Harmony Community Church, 1908 S. Millard Ave., is among the grab-and-go options. Their pantry runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday.
“Given this environment right now, safety has to come first,” said Diane Carioscio, who runs the food pantry at Harmony Community Church.
Carioscio said the Greater Chicago Food Depository convened 10 food pantries around the city to come together to share ideas and strategies for how to continue to serve the community while making sure people stay healthy. Some possible strategies that food pantries are considering include monitoring people in line for symptoms, and implementing a drive-through so folks can get their food without coming into contact with volunteers and food products.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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