This reflection comes from Brenda Becerra, Senior Development Associate for Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), a Presbyterian Hunger Program grant partner.
Our world turned upside down in what seems like one day to another when the pandemic hit and we had to accept this new reality and try to adapt fast. We had no other option; our lives and the lives of our loved ones were and still are at risk. Our community did not see this coming, so it shook people’s lives to the core. Everyday since then has been hard and families continue to have to decide between going to work or keeping their family safe and paying rent or going hungry.
As a lifelong resident of Little Village, I have never seen my community in such pain and mourning. I hope to never see my community experience something like this again. The vibrant 26th street no longer feels the same. Businesses continue to close their doors and the number of residents lost to Covid-19 increases. Monday to Friday I see people on foot and cars lined up blocks down from one of the few free Covid testing sites in the neighborhood. Every Tuesday and Friday I see more and more people lining up for food distribution in the cold just around the corner from my house at New Life.
Our community needs help, and it feels like we are invisible. Local community organizations and residents have truly taken it upon themselves to come together and help neighbors throughout this pandemic when the city has left us and other communities of color behind. Las Semillas de Justicia Urban Garden has always served as a space that connects our families to their roots and their home country. During this pandemic the community garden has served both as a coping space and a critical source of food. It is amazing the support that the farmers and gardeners have shown each other during these difficult times.
In 2020, the gardeners and farmers harvested 2.5 tons of produce and 250 dozens of eggs to help sustain themselves and their families. In the early months of the pandemic LVEJO in partnership with Getting Grown Collective launched the Farm.Food.Familias meal delivery program. It currently delivers 350 meals to families in Little Village, Greater Englewood, South Shore, Back of the Yards, Washington Park, Jackson Park, Greater Grand Crossing, Pullman, Jeffrey Manor, and Marquette Park. This program has impacted the families, volunteers, and Chefs alike. The four local chefs that have helped cook the hundreds of meals every week for the last few months Urban Pilon, Kwamena, Fresher Together, and Amor y Sofrito all expressed heartfelt gratitude to be able to do their passion work of cooking and sharing food with others.
Farm.Food.Familias not only provided food to hundreds of families but also financially sustained the chefs and their families. With all four chefs living and working in these southside neighborhoods, the stipends they receive for cooking and sharing food and culture through the delivered meals is also in a way transformative and uplifting for all. As a volunteer for the program myself, I can say that community members feel seen and heard as we continue to provide meals and connect them to other resources.
Unfortunately, Little Village was not just hit by Covid-19, it was hit by gentrification, Anti-blackness, and environmental injustice. I vividly remember back in April seeing the smokestack at the former Crawford Coal Plant coming down via implosion. As I held back tears, the floor shook, and anger rushed through my body. A huge cloud of dust dispersed throughout the neighborhood and I remember thinking, “They really are trying to kill us”. The city and Hilco Global Co. swept our concerns under the rug as if we were the dust. Everyday is an ongoing battle and the inequities that already existed are more visible than ever in communities of color across Chicago, but we won’t stop until we achieve environmental justice and the self-determination of our community. We cannot afford to let these multi-million dollar corporations take advantage of the situation our community is facing and make empty promises of jobs while at the same time poison our community. We deserve better.
I share this story to show how it truly takes a village and that strong community relationships are important. Sometimes it feels like sharing our personal stories is all we have and all we can do. Amid this uncertainty we are living, one thing I am certain about is that our communities are resilient. I share my story for and in dedication to all the Little Village community members lost to Covid-19 and to the Black and Brown communities that have come together to make sure we live to see a new day.
The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.