Austin students supply fresh produce to neighborhood food desert

Chicago's Very Own

CHICAGO — The death of George Floyd in May sparked protests and violence nationwide, and in Chicago, a swift and positive response from a group of West Side teens has uplifted a community while supplying fresh produce. 

The members of By the Hand Club for Kids are Chicago’s Very Own.

Azariah Baker,15, and nine other Austin area teens have opened their fresh market, Austin Harvest.

The youngsters involved are students in the afterschool program By the Hand Club for Kids. They got the idea for the fresh market in June, while holding a peace circle. In the midst of national rioting and unrest after the death of Floyd, they were hoping to bring lasting positive change to their community.     

Sot- 12:35  donovan “ we felt it was unfair when the riots happened that some people didn’t have access to produce or any type of food or whatever, so we decide to make our own market and have fresh produce for the community,” Donovan Allison, a student in By the Hand Club for Kids, said.

Watching the video and media coverage of Floyds death after a police officer knelt on his neck left them feeling frustrated and also misrepresented.     

“I felt like what happened after his death wasn’t the best reflection of us. It was a revolving question of what do we do now? How do we move on?” Baker said.

“Out of those healing circles we heard the students say, ‘We don’t like how we are being portrayed in the news.’ Young black people. Being portrayed in the news,” Donnita Travis, executive director of By the Hand Club for Kids, said.

When former Chicago Bear and supporter of the organization Sam Acho reached out to Travis, she invited him to speak with the kids.     

“We came and we sat and we listened to the kids, number one and then we did the tour and that’s when we saw with our own eyes, the food desert,” Acho said.

With more than a dozen liquor stores in a half mile radius, Travis said for years she been trying buy one neighborhood liquor store with no success. 

“I talked with him for a decade and he was not willing to sell, but I think because of COVID and because of looting he was finally ready to have a conversation to sell,” Travis said.

With a $500,000 donation from Acho and other Chicago professional athletes, By the Hand Club for Kids has been to purchase, demolish and assemble the market at lightning speed. It only took 10 weeks.    

“The neighborhood needs food today and they need hope today especially during this difficult time,” Travis said.

From designing the space to certification in food handling, the project has been student-led.

“We were trained on entrepreneurship pricing and even how to run a business itself,” Travis said.

But what they’re most proud of is the example they are setting for communities everywhere.

“If a group of ten kids can make this happen, if we can do it other communities can do it, other communities can do it probably better. We’re just the first step,” Keith Tankson, a student in By the Hand Club for Kids, said.

“This works so beautifully because everybody is in one corner, on one mission to heal Austin,” Baker said.

The market is open three days a week from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. until November. 

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