By John Hewko, Rotary International General Secretary
I biked about 25 miles from Evanston to Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood last week with my wife, Marga; Benjamin Rasmus, a Seattle Rotary member and program director for Rotary First Harvest; Rotary member David Bobanick, Rotary First Harvest’s executive director; and a contingent of co-workers from RI World Headquarters.
Through this experience, we learned more about our community and the work Rotary members are doing to address hunger. We saw firsthand the innovative efforts underway in Englewood to provide access to fresh, locally grown produce to families living in what has been referred to as a “food desert.”
Food deserts are urban neighborhoods (like Englewood and some areas of Detroit, Michigan, where I grew up and where Rotarians are hard at work to turn things around) that don’t have ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Rather than grocery stores, the people in these neighborhoods get most of their food from fast food restaurants and convenience stores that lack healthy options. This contributes to a poor diet, which can lead to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Groups such as Rotary First Harvest are working to combat this and other aspects of hunger by teaming up with area farmers, truckers, and volunteers to collect unmarketable, but perfectly good, produce. They then make it available to food banks rather than allow it to go to waste. To help raise national awareness about the hunger issue, Ben, the organization’s program director, is cycling cross country from Washington State to Washington, D.C., visiting farms, food banks, and Rotary clubs along the way.
In Englewood, we visited two organizations: Growing Home, which uses urban farming as a vehicle for job training, employment, and community development, targeting residents with multiple barriers to employment, such as incarceration and long-term joblessness; and I Grow Chicago, which provides a safe haven to at-risk adults and children through a sustainable farming operation and educational programs in nutrition, yoga, and the arts.
These organizations epitomize Service Above Self. It’s enlightening to see firsthand what they are doing to help make a difference in Englewood.
See more photos of the ride on Hewko’s Facebook page