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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Food Pantry Works With Block Clubs To Deliver Groceries To West Side Seniors

The food pantry is using the relationship-driven model of the block club program organized by I AM ABLE to deliver groceries to seniors in need.

A block club network is helping the Harmony Community Church food pantry to deliver groceries to seniors.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — A West Side food pantry is partnering with a local block club network to make deliveries to seniors struggling to access food.

The block club network, organized by social service agency I AM ABLE, works with the Harmony Community Church food pantry to have groceries delivered weekly to seniors in need.

“It actually turned out to be something that was essential for keeping seniors safe,” said Diane Carioscio, director of Harmony’s food pantry. “Since COVID-19 has come in … it’s hitting the seniors. They’re telling 60-year-olds and above to stay home.”

Deliveries are going to seniors in the area bounded by 16th Street, Ogden Avenue, Ridgeway Avenue and Central Park Avenue. Blocks in the area are part of I AM ABLE’s Trauma Response and Intervention Movement, known as TR4IM, which tackles the root causes of trauma and violence by building hyperlocal support networks within eight-block sectors of the West Side.

“Our goal is to meet people where they are, to address the trauma and any issues and challenges they may have,” said Tracie Worthy, a former eight-block leader who is now a vice president for I AM ABLE.

Residents in the block club network have relationships with one another, so they know what kinds of challenges their neighbors face and the type of support they need. To bolster the mutual support neighbors in the area give each other, I AM ABLE has partnerships with more than 30 community groups “that we can make referrals to provide support and assistance to the people who live in that eight-block sector,” Worthy said.

Years ago, when Worthy was an eight-block leader, she’d spoken to an elderly neighbor who struggled to get food because of mobility issues that made it difficult to leave the house.

“I offered to go down to Harmony to get food for her,” Worthy said.

In late 2019, when the food pantry started seeking grants to improve local food access, Carioscio remembered hearing from Worthy about how hard it was for seniors in the network to get groceries. The pantry then won funding from the RRF Foundation for Aging to develop the program in partnership with I AM ABLE’s block club network.

The deliveries began last winter. Worthy worked with another eight-block leader to drop off food provided by Harmony for seniors biweekly. After finding success doing deliveries to around eight seniors, they partnered with the Men Making A Difference neighborhood group to extend their reach.

By the time the stay at home order hit last March, it was evident how crucial the deliveries were to seniors, who are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus. Organizers responded to the surge in need by shifting to weekly deliveries to seniors in the block club network.

“We’re already in a food desert, so it’s not like you can run to the corner store or go to the grocery store. People have transportation issues, so they already couldn’t get out in the best of circumstances,” Worthy said.

The program now makes deliveries to about 40 seniors in the eight-block sector each week, Carioscio said.

By partnering with I AM ABLE, the food pantry is able to take advantage of the tight-knit social infrastructure the block club network has been building for years. Having a relationship-driven food delivery model allows the pantry to more easily identify the seniors who need food and check in to see what other support they might want, Carioscio said.

“They’re able to make wellness checks every week when they’re calling to let them know the food is coming. They can also ask how they’re doing and see that their seniors in their area are doing well. And on the other hand, the seniors aren’t opening their doors to people they don’t know,” Carioscio said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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