WEST GARFIELD PARK — A weekly grocery store is coming to the West Side, giving neighbors a place to buy fresh, affordable produce while local leaders work toward bringing a permanent supermarket to the area.
The Garfield Park Grocery Pop Up runs 2-6 p.m. Tuesdays at 4316 W. Madison St. The pop-up works as a full-service supermarket with over 30 kinds of fresh fruits and veggies, as well as meat, eggs, dry goods and pantry staples.
The project is aimed at giving West Garfield Park residents a place to buy nutritious groceries without traveling to other neighborhoods, said TJ Crawford, director of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, one of the partners behind the market.
“This is representative of a community solution … where people can get very affordable and high-quality produce within walking distance in the neighborhood,” Crawford said.
Residents in the area have long struggled to find places to buy fresh food, often relying on gas stations and liquor stores instead of supermarkets. Like much of the West Side, West Garfield Park is considered to be a neighborhood under food apartheid, since historic disinvestment, segregation and racist policies have resulted in a dire lack of grocery stores and restaurants in the area.
West Garfield Park residents’ average life expectancy is 16 years shorter than people living Downtown, according to a 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University report. The disparity isn’t only due to shortcomings in clinical health care; social conditions like the lack of fresh food are major drivers of the so-called “death gap,” the study found.
Conditions worsened after Aldi, 3835 W. Madison St. abruptly closed last fall. After that, there was only one grocery store left in the entire neighborhood: a Save A Lot that also closed temporarily due to a rat infestation.
Neighborhood groups organized a series of emergency food distributions to feed the families who once relied on the grocery store, particularly seniors. The food giveaways were necessary to support families, “but they’re not a substitute” for a neighborhood grocery store since people still need the option to buy the foods they want, said Liz Abunaw, founder of 40 Acres Fresh Market and a partner on the pop-up.
“The commercial food landscape is not just about food. It’s about neighborhood infrastructure, it’s about commerce, jobs. That’s highly important,” Abunaw said.
Organizations including the Garfield Park Community Council, the Rite to Wellness Collaborative and West Side United partnered to support the pop-up grocery store so the neighborhood’s food ecosystems would have both emergency food options as well places to buy food. The pop-up is supported by a $25,000 grant from the Chicago Region Food System Fund, and the food is supplied by 40 Acres and Top Box Foods.
The project is a temporary series of pop-ups, but it is also a chance to “gather data, and understand what Garfield Park customers want to see and give them an opportunity to spend money in their community in a way that is a good experience,” Abunaw said.
Organizers are applying for funds to extend the market past its original run. The market has so far been well received by customers, Abunaw said. The project also lays a foundation for future markets, and the data on what works and what doesn’t can be used in the future to attract a permanent grocer to the area, she said.
The temporary market is “part of a multi-prong solution to creating quality access to food in West Garfield Park,” Crawford said. The Rite to Wellness Collaborative has a longer-term plan for bringing a grocery store to replace the closed Aldi, and city hall has signed on to support that vision by authorizing the planning department to purchase the vacant building to facilitate a deal.
“This is a model for what can we can have on a consistent or more permanent basis,” Crawford said.
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