Community groups, some retailers offer fresh options in Chicago's food deserts

ByJasmine Minor WLS logo
Friday, September 1, 2023
Community groups, retailers offer fresh options in city's food deserts
What is a food desert? Dion's Chicago Dream and Save A Lot and Dollar General locations are providing options for those without grocery stores nearby.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago is seeing an explosion of new options for underserved people to get fresh food.

Community groups and some retailers are offering produce to help fill a need. It comes as major supermarkets have shut down in the city.

On Friday, Glenda Eberette took two buses just to get to a store.

"The less we have to run around, the easier it is for us and you can get our money. You just got to make it convenient for us," Eberette said.

It hasn't been easy with major supermarkets closing all over the city in the last decade and in the last five years. Just on the South Side, closings include a Whole Foods, two Targets and three Walmarts.

SEE ALSO | Some Englewood residents threaten to boycott Save A Lot replacing Whole Foods

The closures have created a food desert for some Chicagoans. That's an area where one third of the people live at least 0.5 miles from the nearest grocery store. Parts of West Englewood, Austin and South Shore are examples.

But, some neighborhoods have seen improvement in the form of produce at stores like Dollar General.

"What that means is, right, we've got some onions down here. We're not gonna have every variety of onions," said Dollar General Spokesperson Crystal Luce.

Three Dollar Generals on the South Side now offer produce, but is it enough?

"The produce sent here is really aimed to be able to help people fill in, not fill up," Luce said.

Just down the street, Dion's Chicago Dream CEO Dion Dawson has been filling up carts too by opening the first Dream Vault at a Save A Lot store.

"Our team will clean out every locker. Nothing stays overnight. Every day, every day," Dawson said. "They have a reason to come inside these businesses, because we have fresh produce for them for free."

READ MORE | Advocate Health Care fights food insecurity, grows produce for patients on South Side

Dawson uses the vault to give away 10 pounds of free fruits and vegetables, each serving 50 households and counting.

"We have the produce, and we have the logistics to get it here. We have a full supply chain that we control," Dawson said.

The Dream Vault and the produce at Dollar General may not cover everything, but for those like Phillip Johnson, who owns a small business, it's helping bring life back to the community.

"People see the other businesses. They get curious, and they go in and find out what you're doing," Johnson said.

"It's hard to survive," Johnson added. "Gotta fight, so fight."