Like many Chicagoans, Lucía Angel and Jorge Saldarriaga knew they wanted to do something to help their community as the pandemic ravaged the city. But while volunteering at places like the North Lawndale Community Garden, they watched in frustration as organizers faced a steady influx of material hurdles—dwindling donations and distribution companies announcing the end of food box delivery programs—that impeded their ability to effectively do their work.
Angel and Saldarriaga decided there had to be a better, longer lasting solution to support community groups throughout the city. On July 17, the couple launched Grocery Run Club, a subscription-based organization that infuses donation funds into local, on-the-ground operations providing produce and everyday necessities to underserved Chicago neighborhoods. By channeling resources into existing organizations, Angel and Saldarriaga said, they hope to quickly and effectively address neighborhood-specific needs and help ensure those groups face fewer day-to-day setbacks.
“Our bottom line is that we're supporting the orgs that are already doing the work,” Angel explains. “We're just there to get them the resources that they need.”
Under Grocery Run Club's model, donors either provide a one-time monetary contribution or opt into a subscription program starting at $10 a month. That money is then distributed to Grocery Run Club’s partner organizations—currently the North Lawndale Community Garden, Bronzeville Kenwood Mutual Aid, Alt_ and Love Fridge—to purchase produce boxes, dry goods and other necessities. At the end of each week, they post colorfully designed receipts on their website and Instagram showing exactly where donors' money went.
“Part of our job is to show the people who are supporting us, ‘Hey, this is what you did,’” Saldarriaga says. “This is a full-on group effort.”
A flush of funds from connections in the hospitality industry, in which both Angel and Saldarriaga work, allowed them to test the concept in a partnership with the arts nonprofit Alt_; they supported the organization with its creation of a free pop-up market in a once-vacant storefront last month. Now, within just three weeks of their official launch, Grocery Run Club’s subscriber base has ballooned to around 200 monthly donors, and an additional 75 people have given one-time donations.
Research suggests food insecurity has spiked nationwide during the pandemic, a development that’s especially grueling in Chicago neighborhoods with existing scarcity issues. Access to personal hygiene goods and other household items can prove challenging as well. At the outdoor Alt_ market, for instance, Angel and Saldarriaga initially pitched bringing sturdier produce that could withstand time in the sun. But Alt_ organizers, familiar with the neighborhood’s needs, suggested that items like paper towels, pet food and wipes were more in-demand for Austin residents living near the pop-up.
Angel and Saldarriaga also prioritize stocking culturally affirming products. Too often, Angel says, donors simply “clear out their cupboards,” dropping off dusty cans of beans and saccharine-sweet fruit that they don’t want anymore. She referenced the Love Fridge, located a few blocks away from where she grew up in Little Village, as a place to put the kind of goods that would be useful to the Latinx community. Chatting with folks from the neighborhood during the drop-off and stocking processes has helped them more closely fit their needs.
The duo is working to get Grocery Run Club 501(c)(3) status and bolster product donations to help ease overhead costs (currently, they’re sponsored by Lifeway, Red Bull and Gotham Greens). In the long term, though, they want to branch out into self-sustaining production and education ventures by purchasing lots on the South and West Sides of Chicago, with the eventual goal of supplying neighbors—and especially kids—with better access with farm-fresh food and green space.
“Us providing produce and household essentials is the immediate thing that we can do, but as kids from Chicago, it's just so important for us to change the narrative of what's happening,” Angel says. “We want to make sure that we're really really investing time and effort into resourcing communities that have been left behind because of segregation and discrimination.”
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