Summer of 2020 in Humboldt Park. Like so many communities around the country, Humboldt Park has been hit by COVID-19. ALSO outreach workers do mobile canvassing and work to prevent violence, keeping an eye on the community from their cars. Meanwhile, some stores in the community have been looted in recent months, following the killing of George Floyd. And unemployment in Illinois reached an all-time high in April (over 16%), though it has declined slightly since then. Humboldt Park, and other low-income, communities of color are routinely the hardest hit by job loss.
What may be overlooked by some, amidst these issues, is that for community residents, even the most basic necessity – food - can be scarce. This summer, ALSO has responded to the need for food by distributing boxes of food and other items to community residents.
The issue many residents face relates to what is called “food insecurity” – the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of income or other resources, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The agency says that “Food insecurity does not necessarily cause hunger, but hunger is a possible outcome of food insecurity.” Hunger refers to a “potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation.”
In 2014, 17.4 million U.S. households were food insecure at some point during the year.
Data confirms the impact of food insecurity in Humboldt Park. For example, the Sinai Health Community Survey showed that in 2015-2016, nearly half of all households in Humboldt Park (46.2%) “screened positive for low or very-low food security in the past year.” In addition, 49% of Humboldt Park households received food stamps in the year before the survey was released. And 30% of households in the community accessed emergency food from food pantries, soup kitchens, or other sources.
“Hunger is a problem in the community,” says Safe Streets Program Manager Tony Raggs. “It was definitely an issue prior to Covid – and it’s been a bigger issue since the pandemic started.”
During COVID-19, of course, many residents of Humboldt Park have struggled to get out of their homes. At the same time, a couple of Dollar Stores have shut down because of looting. One Dollar Tree at Chicago and Homan Avenues was burned down. Dollar Stores are often the most easily accessible and affordable option for seniors in the community, says Safe Streets Supervisor, Rolando Otero.
In Humboldt Park, the need to access food has been increasingly acute in the last few months. Many people have filed for unemployment checks – and were denied or had to wait for them.
Twice a week this summer, ALSO has received 100 boxes of groceries to distribute to community residents. On Fridays, a hunger-relief agency called Beyond Hunger delivers boxes of dried goods and fruits to ALSO’s Chicago Avenue office, including a bag of oranges, apples, and potatoes. On Tuesdays, ALSO picks up goods from Gorilla Gourmet, a sustainable food management company in Chicago, that also includes dairy products. Meanwhile, ALSO partners, UCAN and Institute for Nonviolence Chicago (INVC), have provided ALSO with lunches to distribute. INVC provides care packages in Ziploc bags that include deodorant, toilet paper, and other goods. In addition, ALSO received a food donation from another organization through Alderman Robert Maldonado’s office.
“We try to make sure seniors and young mothers in the community are taken care of,” says Raggs. “But we are also delivering food to a multitude of people.”
ALSO’s mission is to work in partnership with people living in risk of violence to promote safer streets and homes. How does ALSO’s work to distribute food to community residents relate to this mission? “Poverty is a form of violence,” says Raggs. “We are doing what we can to meet immediate needs – and call attention to what needs to happen to address this issue.”