Dion Dawson excitedly gestures upon seeing that most of the food in his dream fridge has been picked up that morning in Englewood at 5659 S. Racine Ave., on Jan. 13, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

ENGLEWOOD — Dion’s Chicago Dream has paved the way for equitable access to food across the city. Now, with the assistance of a global fellowship program, founder Dion Dawson is ready to bring healthy, fresh food to hundreds of homes.

Dawson was one of 18 people selected for the Echoing Green 2022 Fellowship. Echoing Green, an organization that finds and funds emerging leaders in social innovation, will award Dawson $80,000 over 18 months to further his vision for Dion’s Chicago Dream

The nonprofit Dion’s Chicago Chicago combats food insecurity in Chicago through the Dream Fridge, an Englewood refrigerator stocked daily with fresh foods. Most recently, Dawson expanded his efforts with Dream Deliveries, a food delivery service that provides more than 10,000 pounds of free produce to more than 250 homes across the city and nearby suburbs. 

With support from Echoing Green, Dawson hopes to expand his delivery services over the next year to provide free food to 750 homes in every pocket of the city and beyond, he said. 

“This is not a Band-aid on a bullet wound,” Dawson said. “We want people to understand that food insecurity response has to be centered around the resident experience. We cannot sacrifice quality or access. People eat every day.”

Dion Dawson stands outside of his dream fridge that he stocks daily with food for community members in Englewood at 5659 S. Racine Ave., on Jan. 13, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Dawson applied to be an Echoing Green Fellow in 2021, he said. He didn’t make it to the final round.

But the extensive application, paired with the genuine care Dawson saw from the organization in every question, convinced him to apply again, he said. 

“The application requires you to dig deep. It’s thought-provoking,” Dawson said. “You’re being asked questions as a leader and what you stand for. You have to get to the root of why you approach your organization and leadership style the way that you do. The application let me know that this was the type of organization that I wanted to partner with.” 

More than 1,400 applicants applied for the fellowship, according to the organizers. Dawson’s acceptance groups him with former fellows like former first lady Michelle Obama. 

Dawson said he feels proud to be one of few fellows chosen, but, humbly, he’s not surprised. The work, impact and program have always been there, he said, though more people are starting to see the work his organization has been doing.

“We can’t wait until we raise millions of dollars to open one grocery store in one neighborhood when we have food-insecure residents in every neighborhood,” Dawson said. “We have to evolve and make sure that we’re focused on the resident and getting to them.” 

Over the next year, Dawson will expand Dion’s Deliveries to feed about 4,000 residents per week, he said. Food will arrive at neighbors’ doorsteps six days a week, and his team of four delivery crew members will grow to six or seven. 

“This is a long love letter to Englewood and all the residents of Chicago,” Dawson said. “I’m honored to wake up and truly make people’s lives better and healthier. I’m truly thankful. I’m living my dream.” 

Mostly, Dawson said he’s excited to continue spreading hope throughout his city.

“Philanthropy at its core should instill hope,” Dawson said. “We have to give hope to people and allow everyone to believe that tomorrow can be better. I see myself as a harbinger of hope. I have to make sure that I do my part and that my organization is doing its part.  Whether it’s fast or slow, I’m excited and appreciative when I get to make a difference.” 

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Atavia Reed is a reporter for Block Club Chicago, covering the Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chatham neighborhoods. Twitter @ataviawrotethis