Food giveaway by LGBTQ youth group in Austin aims to sow goodwill among neighbors: ‘Community is community’
An Austin community center for LGBTQ youth of color gave away 110 bags of fresh produce to address food insecurity while building relationships within the neighborhood.
Bobby McGhee walked down a street on the West Side carrying a load of groceries on Wednesday. The large brown bag contained his favorites of cabbage and sweet potatoes and enough produce to last over a week.
The lifelong West Side resident wasn’t leaving a grocery — there are hardly any in the area — he was leaving a giveaway in the Austin community.
“Everybody needs help, and this is certainly a helping hand for the community,” McGhee said.
The giveaways are the focus of a new strategy to sow goodwill in Austin by TaskForce Prevention & Community Services, a community center for LGBTQ youth of color. It was held at their location at 9 N. Cicero Ave.
Wednesday’s giveaway was the second; they plan to hold one every third Wednesday of the month.
The main goal, said executive director Chris Balthazar, is to address food insecurity in Austin, where adults have a harder time accessing fruits and vegetables than almost anywhere else on the West Side, according to the Chicago Health Atlas.
The bags contained red potatoes, sweet potatoes, oranges, onions, green peppers, celery, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, apples and grapes — provided by the Logan Foundation — plus canned beans from the center’s own stores. They added beans at the request of recipients at the previous giveaway.
The focus was on healthy foods because that’s what’s scarce there, Balthazar said. “There are convenient stores but none with fresh produce,” he said.
The giveaways are open to the public — no registration necessary — and in the second go-around, the bags quickly flew off the table that the center had set up on Cicero Avenue. Drivers passing by slowed down and lowered their windows to receive a bag; others, like McGhee, just walked right up.
In the rear parking lot, Dennis Brown loaded his minivan with bags. A member of a nearby church, Brown knew the center and the giveaways; and he didn’t intend to use the bags himself.
Instead he planned to cook for homeless people in the neighborhood. The celery would go into a stew, he said; the tomato and onions would be for chili.
The Austin resident appreciated the help in furthering his mission of providing for homeless people, which he said began after his own experience with homelessness. “I was one of them, and people had to help me,” he said.
In the center’s 32 years in the neighborhood, this is their first program explicitly directed at the larger Austin community. Most days, the center offers LGBTQ youth of color HIV/STI education and prevention; help finding housing; and provides mental health services.
The giveaways, they hope, are the start of a closer relationship with their neighbors.
“Community is community, and they need resources too,” said Reyna Ortiz, program director at the center.
The casual interactions with those who might not otherwise have had many interactions with LGBT community members will give rise, she hopes, to more communication.
Ortiz, who is trans, looks forward to a chance to dismantle myths and stereotypes that any might have have about the LGBTQ community. “No question,” she said, “is taboo.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.