When the Aldi grocery store in Chicago’s West Garfield Park abruptly closed last month, staff at Rush University Medical Center knew this would hurt neighbors who relied on the store for easily accessible fresh, healthy food. Within days, a plan was underway to begin weekly emergency food distributions.
“This Aldi’s been here since as long as I’ve been here, and to see it just go away is definitely devastating, especially for the community,” Leoshay Dobbs, an administrative project manager at Rush, told CBS 2 Chicago.
The closure of the store at 3835 Madison St. left the neighborhood with only one other grocery store. Out of concern for nearby residents, Rush and other members of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, organized an emergency food distribution.
Rush staff arranged for 250 boxes of food, including fish, chicken, fresh fruit and vegetables, rice and pasta — enough to feed a family of four for a week — to be given to residents. On Nov. 6, volunteers from across the collaborative delivered nearly 100 boxes to senior citizens who live near the store and gave the other 150 to neighbors who lined up at the shuttered store’s parking lot. They repeated the giveaway on Nov. 13.
“You would never turn off an entire community’s electricity, you would never stop pumping water,” David Ansell, MD, MPH, said in an interview with BlockClub Chicago. “Fresh food can be the difference between life and death.”
Life expectancy for residents of West Garfield Park is 14 years shorter than for those living in the Loop, said Ansell, senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center. A core part of Rush’s mission to advance health equity is cutting in half that disparity in life expectancy.
Lack of access to healthy food contributes to such health problems as diabetes, malnutrition, cancer and obesity.
Rush medical student Marissa Pharel told the Chicago Sun-Times: “If they have heart disease, for example, part of the treatment is healthy eating. It’s cutting back on sodium, it’s cutting back on that fast food. You can’t do that if you cannot find a grocery store that provides healthy food.”
T.J. Crawford, executive director of Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, said the group wants to see the property filled by another grocer that fits the needs of the neighborhood.
“Access to fresh food is crucial to health, and it should be a right, not a privilege,” Crawford said.
As an emergency measure, the food distributions will continue on three additional Saturdays — Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 — at the site of the former Aldi, and on Friday, Nov. 19, at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd. Distribution begins at 9:30 a.m. and lasts until the boxes are gone.
The collaborative is made up of: Rush University Medical Center, Garfield Park Community Council, West Side United, the Community Builders, Nation Builders Construction Group, MAAFA Redemption Project, New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, Bethel New Life, United for Better Living, Legacy Disciple, Project Forward, YMCA, Institute for Non-Violence Chicago, Bobby E. Wright Community Behavioral Health Center and Earth’s Remedies.