Volunteers with My Block, My Hood My City load food into a car in the parking lot of the Chatham Walmart, 8431 S. Stewart Ave., Sunday afternoon. Credit: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago

CHATHAM — My Block, My Hood, My City is planning more food giveaways to help neighbors after Walmart closed three South Side stores — and it could turn the Chatham store into a community center.

Walmart closed stores in Chatham, Kenwood and Little Village — as well as a fourth in Lakeview — last weekend, with its leaders saying those locations weren’t profitable. Neighbors have said they are worried the closures — made after just a few days’ notice — will mean they lose access to affordable groceries, necessities and medicine.

To help, the nonprofit My Block, My Hood, My City and Top Box Foods gave away 1,000 boxes of food Sunday in the Chatham Walmart parking lot — and group leaders have vowed to hold more distributions. They’ll do monthly events to support neighbors who now must travel further to buy what they need, they said.

The group is also looking into turning the Chatham location into a community center, though it’s only just begun to explore the idea.

“For this resource not to be here anymore is really disappointing, but My Block, My Hood, My City is here, and we’re going to provide what we need,” said Lena Vivins, of Woodlawn, who works with the nonprofit,

“We’re going to take care of our community. We are going to be a voice that says, ‘If you leave, we’ll be here. We are going to take care of our people.’” 

Volunteers braved the cold and rain to distribute food to people after Walmart announced the abrupt closures of four Chicago stores. Credit: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago

The groups already provide weekly food giveaways to older people in the area, and organizers plan to expand these efforts in the coming months, said Ilandrea Nichols, senior services coordinator for My Block, My Hood, My City.

“[The response has] been love. Everyone is so excited, so grateful and gracious,” Nichols said. “It feels good to be able to do this work in our community.”

Lena Vivins, a 47-year-old from Wood Lawn who works with My Block My Hood My City, speaks about how Walmart leaving has “devastated” the community. Credit: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago

Walmart fought for years to open in Chicago, and its leaders pledged to be good neighbors. As recently as 2020, company executives promised to keep Chicago stores open — even ones that struggled with profitability.

But it has become one of many grocers and major retailers — including Aldi, Whole Foods and Target — that have abandoned disinvested communities.

“Corporations come here, and they’re so excited. Then, a few years later, they decide the bottom line is more important than the community’s health,” said Jahmal Cole, CEO and founder of My Block, My Hood, My City. “Don’t blame this on us. This is not about theft. This is about big businesses coming into the community and leaving without warning.” 

Local officials have threatened to boycott Walmart if the company doesn’t meet with them.

In addition to the Chatham Supercenter, stores in Kenwood at 4720 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Little Village at 2551 W. Cermak Road and Lakeview at 2844 N. Broadway closed Sunday. Pharmacy patients can call or visit until May 12, officials said.

Jahmal Cole, CEO and founder of My Block My Hood My City, said the group will expand its efforts to distribute food in the community. Credit: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago

Cole said his group wants to take over the abandoned Chatham location and turn it into a multi-faceted community center. He will talk with local officials in the coming days and develop partnerships to make it happen, he said. 

“We don’t want to see this become another abandoned building in the community,” Cole said. “It’s not fair to us. We feel abandoned. We feel displaced. We feel neglected.

“Give us this space to turn into a community center and we’ll put it to good use. … We don’t want people who just pop in and pop out; this is what we do.” 

The store’s closure means many residents are not only losing access to fresh groceries but also a pharmacy and health center

“This community is devastated, asking, where are we going to shop at?” Cole said. “There’s all these currency exchanges and no banks. There’s all these liquor stores and no healthy options, all these dialysis clinics but no health care centers.” 

Ilandrea Nichols, the senior services coordinator for My Block My Hood My City, urged young people to volunteer. Credit: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago

Organizers said people should contact their local representatives and speak out about how the store closures are affecting them.

Business owners, South Side community leaders and elected officials protested the closures Thursday outside the Chatham store, and Southwest Siders rallied Friday outside the Little Village Walmart. 

“We have to make sure our voices get heard,” Vivins said. “They do these things because they think we’re not going to say anything. We’re out here to say that we’re going to speak up and we’re going to demand that we are treated right.” 

Nichols and Vivins said residents can help by volunteering to distribute food and finding ways to support the community through this loss. 

“It’s important for the younger generation to come out and support our community,” Nichols said. “It’s easy for us to rely on the elders and on other people to come and help us, but it’s not going to get done the way we need it to get done unless we come out and actually do the work.” 

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