CHICAGO — Toni Anderson is the founder of an organization that teaches children how to better care for our planet. However with the pandemic upon us and recent looting in some areas of the city, she rearranged her space to provide a reciprocity food hub and help her neighbors in need.
The urban ecologist teaches her children that planting trees in a bustling metropolis like Chicago brings a calming peace through nature to an often chaotic city.
“When you live in busy areas that are high stress it’s important that we have the ability to kind of sit on a bench and just watch butterflies and have it for no other reason than that,” she said.
Anderson’s organization, Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, focuses on schooling children in urban areas about caring for mother earth.
“I can teach students to be better consumers and better stewards of the planet and get engaged in nature,” she said.
But those lessons came to a screeching halt a few months ago when COVID-19 hit Illinois. Forced to put her non-profit on hold, her workspace sat dormant, up until a few weeks ago.
After the death of George Floyd in May, civil unrest throughout the world left communities without access to essentials including groceries.
“There were no stores open, our grocery stores our pharmacy’s nothing, in miles of our community nothing was open,” Anderson said.
Located in Bronzeville at 45th Street and Martin Luther King Drive the outside is non-descript, but Anderson said it took one simple click and people from all over the city chipped in to help stock this hub with donations.
“A post on social media and said hey this space is going to function as a hub if you have food to give bring it, and if you need it and if you can’t get to us we’ll get it to you,” she said.
And with the help of her friend Kymon (oh-do-koya), the two have been delivering grocery’s to the elderly. During the looting, oh-do-koya said he had to drive to Merrillville, Indiana, for fresh produce.
“Fresh foods, not pre-packaged not processed were almost it was just notoriously difficult to get,” he said.
Anderson said having these back-to-back issues has put a strain on her community
“Looters brought access issues but COVID brought economic issues where a lot of our community their jobless and they cannot afford a lot we’re highly stressed and having to go place to place for one item is taxing,” Anderson said.
She wanted the experience of shopping for groceries to be just the way it is when you go to the market.
“To have a space where people can kind of come in and shop the way they would in a grocery store and pick out their own needs I felt like was an empowering dignified thing to do in this moment,” she said.
Anderson’s food pantry has been open since the first week of June. It didn’t take long for her to put it into action.
And although preserving the earth is still a priority for Anderson, helping others during this time of crisis has taken the forefront and it’s been good for her soul.
“If I can make a person feel empowered in this moment and have what they need without stress or pressure and worried about their pocketbooks then that makes me feel like I’m doing my part,” she said.
Anderson is one of Chicago’s Very Own.
The Sacred Keepers Food Hub is currently open Monday through Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For more information, you can email Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org