Your NPR news source
Volunteers pass out boxes of frozen food to people near 63rd Street and Ashland Avenue in Englewood on Monday.

Volunteers pass out boxes of frozen food to people near 63rd Street and Ashland Avenue in Englewood on Monday.

Brian Rich

Englewood food giveaway fills gap left by shuttered Whole Foods: ‘I pray that we will never be hungry’

Charlotte Woods braved cold weather for over an hour Monday morning at an Englewood lot for a chance to receive a free box of frozen meat.

Grocery stores are lacking in her neighborhood, often considered a food desert, now that the Whole Foods down the street closed less than a month ago.

“I don’t think there’s many options around here for the community,” Woods said. “So I think it’s a blessing to come out here and receive this.”

People and cars lined up down the block to receive some of the 60,000 pounds of frozen beef, hot dogs and bacon passed out at 63rd Street and Ashland Avenue. The giveaway was held by the Andrew Holmes Foundation and Taste for the Homeless run by Michael Airhart.

“Even though they closed that grocery store, somebody’s got to stand up and say, ‘We’re going to come together and make sure we’ll put some food out here,’” Airhart said.

Airhart regularly donates fresh food in Chicago through Taste for the Homeless. The chef said he’s been giving away food since he was 8 years old in Altgeld Gardens. The food passed out Monday was donated by Conscious Alliance and Applegate Farms, he said.

“I know the feeling they’re having right now,” Airhart said. People are struggling to put food on the table because of rising food prices and inflation, he said.

Englewood residents lost one of their main grocery stores last month when Whole Foods at 832 W. 63rd St. was closed by its corporate owner, Amazon. The city and landowner haven’t announced what will replace the shuttered store, which opened to fanfare in 2016 as a symbol of Englewood’s revitalization.

Experts have said it may be a while until another grocery opens in the neighborhood, now that the market is awaiting the outcome of a merger between Kroger and Albertsons, which each own Chicago-area Mariano’s and Jewel Osco, respectively.

By donating quality, organic food in his giveaway, Airhart said he hopes to pass on the dignity and respect his community members deserve.

“That’s the whole purpose — making sure people get this quality,” he said.

Airhart likened giving away quality food to receiving his first pair of quality jeans while he was living as a child in the projects. “I felt like I was a million dollars,” he said.

Andrew Holmes said they organized the giveaway after receiving “so many calls from families in need of food.”

Volunteers passed out whole cases of food “so they can feed their family not only for Christmas but through the week,” Holmes said. “Wherever in the city stores are closing, we need to come out and help, no matter who we are.”

Janelle Teague traveled to the food giveaway from Matteson because she struggles to put food on the table.

“Imagine me trying to put food on the table for seven people,” said Teague, a single mother of six.

She said she gets by on “God’s grace and mercy.”

Teague said she’s inspired by Airhart’s giveaways and wants to create her own nonprofit to give back to the community. She was homeless for two years and understands hardship.

Even though she struggles, Teague volunteers to hand out meals to the homeless on Lower Wacker Drive, she said.

“I pray that we will never be hungry. And I pray that for everyone else as well,” Teague said.

Woods, who had waited in line for over an hour, said she has gone to several of Airhart’s food giveaways.

“I feel like he genuinely cares. He doesn’t have to take his time out to do this for people,” she said. “This man travels all over on his grill giving fresh, hot food. That’s a blessing for a lot of people.”

The Latest