WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — Earlier this year, a boxing club for West Side kids took over an old church and food pantry in West Humboldt Park.
Now, as West Side families struggle with hunger and joblessness amid the coronavirus pandemic, the organization is leaning into the building’s history and hosting regular food drives to fill the gap.
“We really felt a sense of urgency to help provide for our community,” said Jamyle Cannon, founder of The Bloc.
“People underestimate food pantries. They too often see it as a handout as opposed to seeing it as a resource to help people get on their feet. It’s a lot easier to deal with the daily challenges of life, to put yourself in a position to better your life, when your basic needs are met.”
So far this summer, The Bloc has hosted two food drives. The organization’s third food drive is set for noon-4 p.m. Sunday at the former home of Mission of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1345 N. Karlov Ave. It is being organized in partnership with the local animal rescue One Tail at a Time.
At the food drives, families can pick up fresh produce donated by Austin-based Forty Acres Fresh Market, as well as canned goods and other groceries like peanut butter and toilet paper. Volunteers distribute the food.
The group’s first two food drives served more than 500 families, Cannon said.
“There’s a massive need in the community,” Cannon said.
Cannon said he plans to host the drives on the second and fourth Sundays of every month “until there’s no longer a need.”
Chicago-based startup Farmer’s Fridge has committed to donating 300 of its healthy vending machine meals to a future food drive, Cannon said.
“The hope is as the economy rebuilds and families are in more stable situations there won’t be as much of a need,” Cannon said. “But there’s always going to be some people who need extra help to stay on their feet. We want to run this indefinitely.”
On top of the food drives, the organization is continuing its mission of teaching boxing — and academic rigor — to West Side kids.
Cannon said they’ve implemented several new safety measures in adherence with public health guidelines: Masks are required, even while sparring, staffers are checking temperatures upon arrival, the building is sanitized frequently and class sizes are small to allow for social distancing.
Cannon said despite all of the challenges the pandemic brings, he’s encouraged by the kids who have come to call the sanctuary home over the last several months.
“Kids are coming in and saying, ‘There’s a lot going on in my home. right now and I just needed to be here,'” Cannon said. “Even throughout the pandemic, we’re able to be a resource for young people.”
To get involved with the food drives, visit The Bloc’s website or social media pages.
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