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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

City Extends Delivery Program To Bring Food To Homebound Austin Neighbors

The pilot program matching 100 neighbors with local pantries for two monthly food deliveries is continuing for another six months, officials said.

A produce display at Soul City Market, which is hosted at the building set to be developed into Forty Acres Fresh Market.
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AUSTIN — The city is extending a food delivery pilot program in Austin to feed homebound neighbors with disabilities.

The Vivery Idea Lab launched in February, matching 100 Austin neighbors with local food pantries to provide two monthly deliveries of produce, perishable items and shelf-stable foods, officials said.

The city is extending the program six months to continue the deliveries to the same group of residents, officials said. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is paying for the expansion, and local leaders are looking for funding to bring the service to 1,000 more neighbors throughout Chicago, officials said.

The program, which cost $150,000 in total to operate, is a partnership among the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities, the city’s Community Safety Coordination Center, the Food Depository and Vivery Community, a public charity focused on food access.

“Using the full force of government to work in coordination with philanthropy, community and business to improve access to healthy food for my disabled neighbors in Austin is something I’m proud to continue,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement.

Ashley Friend, managing director of the Vivery Idea Lab, worked with the Mayor’s Office and other partners to determine who needed needed the program the most. They created a map based on areas and people who lacked reliable public transit and reliable ADA-accessible places, which is common on the West Side.

A study conducted by Vivery earlier this year said those with a disability are three times more likely to face food insecurity and twice more likely than others to lack access to healthier food.

Additionally, only 20 percent of pantries in the community are ADA accessible, with the most reported barriers being lack of transportation and a lack of mobility options.

“We’ve been committed to understanding the local challenges and barriers to food access and thinking of how technology can be used to solve those problems,” Friend said. “We were over the moon to get this funding. This is a really great network of people coming together.”

The pilot has distributed over 27,000 pounds of food through 1,059 deliveries, officials said. Neighbors receive roughly 50 pounds of food in their twice-monthly deliveries, officials said.

The produce and groceries and meat, grains, and dairy are provided by Dion’s Chicago Dream and the Forty Acre Fresh Market, Friend said.

In addition to fresh food, the pilot also helps neighbors access resources such as SNAP sign-up pages and maps for other food services, officials said.

According to the Chicago Health Atlas, roughly 48 percent of Austin residents don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The neighborhood and others surrounding it such as North Lawndale and Garfield Park have been known as food deserts, lacking healthy, quality food options and accessibility to them.

Lack of nutritional food in areas such as West Garfield Park can create long-lasting health problems such as diabetes and obesity, significantly shortening life expectancies in the process.

Man-Yee Lee, spokesperson for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said decades-long issues such as structural racism and social inequalities lead to food deserts to thrive. The Food Depository works with more than 800 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and mobile distributions centers to provide resources aimed at addressing the problem long term, Lee said.

The organization established a 37,000 square-foot meal-prep facility on the Southwest Side last year, and established a program for Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park in 2021 to address the lack of food assistance in those areas during the pandemic.

“We aren’t just about feeding people, we believe food is a basic human right. Everyone deserves to eat,” Lee said.

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