Community Issues

Teens Turned A Liquor Store Into A Food Market

They were tired of not having access to fresh, affordable food in their community – so, with the help of some friends, they worked to make it happen.

Did you know that deserts can exist in the middle of a city?

They're called food deserts. Neighborhoods where there's limited access to supermarkets or farmer's markets with healthy food like fresh fruit and vegetables. Often, people who live in these areas have to travel miles to reach a grocery store with these types of items.

Austin, a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, is considered to be a food desert. While there are a dozen liquor stores within a half mile radius, there are only two small markets where people can buy fresh food.

The youth-led organization handled all aspects of the market, from business planning to ordering food. By The Hand Club For Kids/Facebook

That's what motivated the teens members of a local youth organization to start their own pop-up market to bring fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers to their community.

After the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, members of By the Hand Club for Kids met with community leaders and had listening circles to talk about their feelings and discuss the inequity they experience on a daily basis.

Fresh vegetables are a luxury in many neighborhoods.By The Hand Club For Kids/Facebook

Many of the teens admitted they were frustrated that there weren't enough places to get good quality, healthy food, especially since the few grocery stores in the community had closed temporarily after being looted.

"What I heard coming out of that was that students wanted to take all those raw and powerful emotions and turn them into something good and do something from a social justice standpoint," Donnita Travis, executive director of the group, told Book Club Chicago.

The fresh air market offers fresh fruit, produce and flowers to locals at affordable prices. By The Hand Club For Kids/Facebook

The group came up with the idea to transform one of the liquor stores that had been looted into an open air market, run entirely by the young members of By the Hand.

Once word got out about the project, people from all over the city reached out to kick in money and resources, including professional athletes like Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito.

"People care. It's a time for people to show up. I think our world has changed," Sam Acho, a free agent for the NFL, said. "So for us to be able to come together and say we're going to lead that change, it means something."

A group of pro athletes offered resources to the teens and helped them to build the market. @TheSamAcho

The athletes and other volunteers helped with the demolition of the building and the teens took it from there, handling everything from planning the business (including learning how to balance a budget), to working with architects to figure out what the project would look like, and managing the store themselves.

"This is a real entrepreneurship opportunity for them, but also an opportunity for them to bring food justice to our neighborhood," Travis said.

Along with filling a much needed void in the neighborhood, the pop-up market gave the teens the opportunity to learn entrepreneurship skills. By The Hand Club For Kids/Facebook

We love this idea! Kudos to the teens and the entire community for turning the teens' vision into a reality. We're sure the lessons they learn from this will pave the way for even bigger ideas in the future.

How can you start something good?

If you're in the Chicago area, you can visit the Austin Market at 423 N. Laramie, Mon., Wed., & Fri. from 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm.

To learn more about By the Hand and make a donation, click here.

Let's #StartSomethingGood together!

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