Teens Turn Liquor Store In A ‘Food Desert’ Into A Pop Up Food Market

On the west side of Austin, a liquor store is seeing an unexpected change. Teenagers were provided with an opportunity to meet some of the challenges in the neighborhood. They decided to target the liquor store and turn it into a pop-up food market.

Austin is hurting as far as food is concerned. The location at 423 N. Laramie Ave will become a pop-up food market. Considering the fact that there are 12 liquor stores and only 2 food markets within 1/2 mile radius, it was obvious that it is needed.

By the Hand Club for Kids was busy during the George Floyd protests against police violence. They held listening circles and that is when the youth-led project got its start. They wanted to get their feelings out about inequality and the lack of resources in the area. After being looted, some of the few grocery stores in the area had to close their doors.

“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,” said Donnita Travis, executive director of the group according to the Block Club Chicago.

There were provided with an opportunity to transform one of the stores that was looted and the kids took the ball and ran with it.

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Local athletes also got involved, including Sam Acho of the NFL. He wanted to help young people realize their vision for what the neighborhood could be. He said that people care and that the world has changed. He feels that it truly means something that they are coming together and making a difference.

$500,000 was raised by athletes to tear down the liquor store and turn it into a food resource for the neighborhood.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt were some of the professional athletes that were involved.

By the Hand helped to get firms together and to work with architects to mastermind the project. The youth then said that the liquor store could be turned into a pop-up food market to sell vegetables, fruit, and flowers.

The Hatchery Chicago is involved in a partnership to develop the curriculum. Young people running the market could learn entrepreneurship and business skills, including customer service and licensing. The Hatchery is also involved with creating a culinary pathways program to help youth who would want a future in the food industry.

Travis said that fruits and vegetables would be available and they wanted a safe area where people could hang out. They might even offer healthy cooking and nutrition demonstrations in education, along with some music.

A pilot pop-up market was held at the liquor store location to give the kids an opportunity to show their vision to the community. Chicago athletes, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot came together with the young people to help start the teardown of the building and get things started.

It was hoped that the pop-ups would start running in August. They would continue to work at the pop-up market for a few days and they would even be paid for their work.

“This is a real entrepreneurship opportunity for them, but also an opportunity for them to bring food justice to our neighborhood,” Travis said according to the Block Club Chicago.

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