When an Aldi grocery store opened nearly 30 years ago on the city’s West Side, Ayesha Jaco’s family went from getting essentials at a corner store to buying a wide range of healthy foods.
“There was great excitement and relief around having [the Aldi store] there,” recalled Jaco, who heads a neighborhood development organization.
Last year, however, the store closed, joining several vacant storefronts in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.
Jaco is now helping to lead an effort to turn the neighborhood around with grocery stores, a health care clinic, an art center and a credit union under a multimillion-dollar plan during the next three years. Officials also hope to improve the overall health of residents in the neighborhood, which has lower life expectancy rates than many other parts of the city.
The Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative is competing for a $10 million grant from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation. It’s one of six finalists — all nonprofits with projects on the city’s South and West sides.
The Chicago Prize 2022 money is part of a larger $30 million commitment by the foundation to increase development over the next three years on the South and West sides.
The foundation plans to announce the winner in December.
Under the Garfield Park group’s proposal, five sites would be developed, covering an area bound by Washington Boulevard to the north, Garfield Park to the east, the Eisenhower Expressway to the south and Kostner Avenue to the west.
Dubbed the Sankofa Wellness Village, the project takes its inspiration from a word from West Africa, which means to go back for what’s been lost, whether that’s a grocery store or a clinic, Jaco said. The development would be a walkable village, she said.
Three of the sites would sit on Madison Street, including a business incubator at Madison and Kostner; a 60,000-square-foot structure with a clinic, fitness center and credit union at Madison and Kildare Avenue; and a grocery store at Madison and Garfield Park. The Aldi used to be near the planned grocery store.
“This is a commitment to undo decades of disinvestment,” said Jaco, executive director of West Side United, which focuses on health and development in the area. Jaco’s group is part of the collaborative.
Plans also include remodeling of the shuttered St. Barnabas Episcopal Church into an arts center at Washington and Kildare and opening a Save A Lot at Pulaski and the expressway.
A planning document for the project includes a proposal to attempt to improve the health of residents in the next five years, including serious psychological problems and decreasing deaths associated with pregnancy.
Overall, the life expectancy for residents is about 12 years less than the expected 80 years for a resident in the Loop, according to the Chicago Health Atlas.
“When you want to create longstanding stability, you have to heal from the inside out,” said Theo Crawford, executive director of the collaborative. “We need to make sure we have an environment that will produce healthy individuals.”
The Chicago Sun-Times receives funding from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.