Growing up in a single-parent home on Chicago’s South Side with a parent who struggled with substance abuse, I became familiar with experiencing the queen’s gambit of food issues: food insecurity, hunger and food apartheid. I’ve stood in long lines, waiting to receive free food from some well-meaning groups—though many times it either wasn’t part of our respective diet or was of poor quality.
I have never forgotten that. So, when things started to get even harder for low-income families, a couple of years back, I knew that I needed to do something. Actually, one of my little brothers was the catalyst. As I was working overnight shifts to help keep some family members afloat, he asked me what I was going to do to commemorate Juneteenth.
I was a bit taken aback, so I just said we were going to feed 100 families (though I had no money and no idea what to do). I launched a GoFundMe fundraiser and we raised $2,500 in just over 24 hours—enough to give away more than 800 pounds of food to 96 families. It was exhausting and crazy, but I also realized that this was what I was supposed to be doing—this was how all my past experiences came together.
Soon after, someone offered to give me a bunch of money to keep helping folks in this way, but I couldn’t legally accept it. I felt terrible, like I was letting people down. So I went to my wife, Crystal, and told her I felt a need to go for “it.”
“What’s it?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” I said, “but I have just got to chase this feeling.”
Over the next few weeks, I quit my job, learned everything I could about food insecurity and launched my own nonprofit, Dion’s Chicago Dream, to help provide consistent access to healthy, quality food throughout the Chicagoland area.
It has been a wild ride. Somehow, word about what we were doing reached Ellen DeGeneres, and we ended up appearing on the show. Once there, we were surprised with $25,000. We have received other support, and to date have been able to provide over 78,000 pounds of new, fresh produce.
We run a community fridge in Englewood, which is stocked every day, where people can come and take what they need without judgment. We’re currently providing 250 households with a weekly 10-lb box of fresh produce. We currently have more than 350 households on the waiting list. For just $1,000, we can provide a household with this box of healthy food every week for the entire year.
There’s still a lot more that needs to be done, but it has been rewarding and encouraging to see the rewards of making a difference at the level you can. With the help of others, you can always achieve more than seems possible. We are committed to feeding families, creating community and fueling hope.
This article is featured in the Spring 2022 Edition (Issue 6) of WayMaker Journal.