Community leaders discuss food access in the 5th Ward


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Community leaders discussed how food scarcity in the 5th Ward leads to a lack of reliable produce.

Ellie Skelly, Reporter

C & W Market and Ice Cream Parlor on Church St. is a community staple for groceries in Evanston’s 5th Ward. The small corner store’s shelves are lined with chips, processed goods and basic items. While C & W has some fresh produce options, like fruit and dairy, it is not a full-service grocery store. 

At 5th Ward meeting in December, some residents suggested a grocery store be developed at the vacant lot at 1805 -1815 Church Street to address a current lack in the community. 

While not a food desert by U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said residents in his ward lack access to diverse produce and nutritious food. He aims to improve nutrition in the 5th Ward by encouraging convenience stores to broaden their availability.

“You’re providing chips and other fast-food options, but are you also providing healthier options?” Burns asked. “And are you providing that at the same scale as you’re providing these other options? That’s really what I want to help businesses do.” 

Burns said residents have to travel to larger grocery stores to access organic fruits and vegetables. These trips, which may be quick by car, could become many-hours long because of inconsistent local public transit schedules, he said.   

Ike Ogbo, Evanston’s director of health and human services department, said living in an area without high quality supermarkets and fresh food negatively affects community health. He added that areas with food insecurity can have difficulty meeting necessary nutritional needs.

“Obesity was outlined as one of our major health priorities (in Evanston),” said Ogbo.

While grocery stores with a wider variety of offerings, including Valli International Fresh Market, are located less than two miles from C & W, the route to Valli borders busy roads and unplowed sidewalks in the winter. 

“If we weren’t here, then they would have to go to Valli’s or they would have to go to Food 4 Less. So, it (would) be a little difficult for those that don’t have vehicles,” said Clarence Weaver, who co-owns C & W with his wife Wendy Weaver. 

Still, Burns said the demand for nutritional items in local convenience stores is low.

He said convenience stores are reluctant to stock their shelves with more produce and replace the high margins of packaged and artificial snacks.

“The bottom line is people want to eat what they want to eat, so we have to tailor it to their wants and desires,” Burns said. 

Burns said if small corner stores are going to spend resources stocking their shelves with more nutritious food, they need to know there is a demand for it.

He hopes to implement systems that would streamline accessible grocery shopping. One idea involves including an online grocery store that allows residents to order affordable groceries to their neighborhood, while also informing stores on produce demand. Community grocery co-ops are a low-risk way for entrepreneurs to invest in their communities, he said.

“If the city can help our businesses create lists, where we know ahead of time, where people can order ahead of time, they can pre-order the things that they need,” said Burns. “We need something that’s flexible enough to address changes, needs and desires, but it’s still affordable, it’s still accessible, and still able to be dropped off to where you live or picked up a block away.” 

Outside of his store, Clarence Weaver works to challenge food insecurity in the 5th Ward. He started the C & W Foundation, a program dedicated to helping people train for jobs in the food industry. 

Weaver said providing food, no matter the circumstance, is an essential practice, vital to the survival of a community.

“(Evanston) is not necessarily a food desert,” said Weaver. “But the opportunity is always there to continue to provide more.”

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Twitter: @ellie_skelly   

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