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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Food Co-Ops Team Up To Feed More Families In Need On South, West Sides: ‘We’ll Be Stronger Together’

Three co-ops have formed ChiMeals, a collective dedicated to supporting Chicagoans experiencing food insecurity.

ChiFresh Kitchen worker-owners at their kitchen in the Hatchery.
Pascal Sabino / Block Club
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GARFIELD PARK — A group of food cooperatives have joined forces to feed more people struggling with food insecurity as part of an initiative called ChiMeals.

The co-ops will work together to share resources and expertise, expand their networks, raise money and support each other in their shared goals of creating wealth-building opportunities while improving access to healthy food. The co-ops involved in ChiMeals include ChiFresh Kitchen, Cocina Compartida de Trabajadores Cooperativistas and Cooperativa Visionarias.

“Our collaboration is about co-ops coming together so we can keep each co-op strong and help the community at the same time,” said Kimberly Britt, a worker-owner at ChiFresh Kitchen. “We all have the same passions … and help each other so that we can continue to grow and succeed and make living wages for each other as well as serve our community.”

The collaboration will help each of the co-ops extend their reach and be sustainable as a long-term solution to the food insecurity that has impacted Black and Latino communities even before the pandemic, said Camille Kerr, a consultant who helped start ChiFresh Kitchen.

“We wanted to build a longer-term coalition that could address food insecurity and healthy food access needs in our communities long-term,” Kerr said. “We’ll be stronger together. We’ll have a whole approach that’s about food sovereignty in our communities.”

ChiFresh Kitchen makes up to 500 free prepared meals per day for partners who give away meals to address food insecurity caused by the pandemic, including the the Montessori School of Englewood, the Grace House for formerly incarcerated people and Black Youth Project 100. They provide healthy and affordable meals for other clients, like La Casa Norte, YMCA of Metro Chicago and local senior centers.

The formal partnership creates opportunities for the co-ops to do professional development and trainings together, Kerr said. The groups are also fundraising together, allowing them to make more free meals for their partners’ mutual aid efforts, she said.

ChiMeals is accepting donations on the new website for the partnership, Each donation goes directly toward a free meal.

The ChiMeals collaboration allows ChiFresh Kitchen to provide food for more communities. Through its partnership with Cooperativa Visionarias, its food gets delivered to the Southeast Side of Chicago, where the immigrant-owned co-op is based.

Each cooperative brings something different to the table, said Martin Unzueta, of Cocina Compartida de Trabajadores Cooperativistas. The North Lawndale-based cooperative gives street vendors a shared kitchen to make their food to sell in their stands and carts, Unzueta said. The vendors at the co-op mostly make tamales and tacos, he said.

With the ChiMeals partnership, each cooperative buys and sells food items between each other, allowing them to offer a wider range of food to their clients.

“Their specialty is different from ours. We give this food for free to the community. The good thing is that we never offer to the same communities the same meals. We can change it,” Unzueta said. “It’s not always tamales. We can have burgers and other things.”

Credit: Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago
Tamale meals prepared by the ChiMeals collaborative.

On Tuesdays, ChiFresh Kitchen gets tamales from Cocina Compartida de Trabajadores Cooperativistas, which they complete with sides they make at their kitchen at the Hatchery Chicago, 135 N. Kedzie Ave.

“On days when we’re serving Latinx communities, we have the tamaleros make food for us, and we supplement it. It’s authentic Mexican food they’re getting,” Kerr 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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