We Rise Together COVID Impact Grants Spend $ 7.4 Million on Powerful Community Plans

CHICAGO (WLS) – A financial coalition focused on Chicago’s fair recovery on Thursday awarded $ 7.4 million in grants to real estate development projects that were already underway when the pandemic hit.

We Rise Together: For An Equitable and Just Recovery is a coalition of private, public and philanthropic funders focused on communities that have historically been divested, including neighborhoods on the South and West sides.

On Thursday, 10 projects in eight communities received grants to advance their plans, despite the COVID-19 setback.

In South Lawndale, Latinos Progresando has been considering for years turning a vacant old town library building into a community center. But when the pandemic struck, the group’s attention immediately shifted.

“We had to stop because at that point we had to make sure that families in our community had what they needed to survive,” said Luis Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Latinos Progresando.

On Thursday, We Rise Chicago announced that it has given the neighborhood organization a million dollar grant to transform the library into a Latino Progresando community center.

Gutierrez expects the project to be completed by the end of 2022. Once completed, he said students will be able to receive mental health services, as well as after-school programs run by the Lincoln Park Zoo.

“What the recovery looks like is investing directly in areas of the city of Chicago that have historically been divested and that have been hit hardest by COVID,” Gutierrez said. “

“I’m delighted, excited. I still can’t believe it. It’s such a blessing,” he added. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me, to the Latinos Progresando, to the whole community. It transforms this whole project.”

Gloria Castillo of We Rise Together said the urgency is important. She said all the selected projects should be up and running in 12 months, and she hopes this will help the surrounding blocks and neighborhoods.

“We have to make sure that the communities that have suffered the most are not left behind,” Castillo said. “This is really the critical part of our job. It really strengthens the whole region.”

In the Grand Grand Crossing, a vacant grocery store will now become ChiFresh Kitchen – a retail, restaurant and food service business.

ChiFresh Kitchen received a grant of $ 850,000, Castillo said.

The black-owned co-op currently operates in a kitchen they have outgrown, and the owners, all five of whom were once incarcerated, now have visions for the future.

“We’re just trying to get by here and do great things in the community, and we’re really excited about it,” said Renee Taylor, co-owner of ChiFresh Kitchen.

The owners of ChiFresh Kitchen expect to be fully operational early next year. The owners also hope to raise others, including those who have spent time in prison.

“I want to be able to hire more incarcerated women so that they can have the same dreams, goals and opportunities that we have been given,” said Sarah Stadtfeld, co-owner of ChiFresh Kitchen.

After all, the group takes pride in their cuisine.

“Everyone says our meals are super delicious,” Stadtfeld said. “You should try them.”

We Rise Together posted the following about each project:

  • Café Du Bois, Washington Heights: A multi-purpose café will occupy a renovated vacant building. It will provide three essential community amenities: 1) an employee-owned cafe and laundromat, 2) a community event and co-working space to meet the unmet need for local offices and event venues, and 3) a space for pharmacy lockers to meet demand from residents who, faced with several recent store closings, face extended trips to their nearest pharmacy.
  • ChiFresh Kitchen, Greater Grand Crossing: A black women-owned worker cooperative that delivers freshly prepared meals is redeveloping a vacant building to expand its three lines of business, including retail, foodservice and service outsourcing food. ChiFresh Kitchen also plans to offer subsidized cold storage space to budding community organizations battling food insecurity in the region.
  • Inner City Entertainment, South Shore: A social enterprise run by two black women will transform a vacant building into a dining and entertainment experience, featuring: 1) Cinegrill, a seven-screen cinema-restaurant with a total capacity of 350 people, 2) Odessa’s Kitchen, a Creole-themed restaurant and retail market, 3) AJ’s, an eight-lane boutique bowling and billiard center, and 4) Penthouse71, a rooftop event space for up to ‘to 200 guests.
  • Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, Maywood, Ill. : The village of Maywood is a food desert, but the cost of building a new grocery store has been identified as prohibitive for opening a store serving the community. The grant will support the construction of a newly constructed commercial space within an affordable housing complex to house a grocery store.
  • Justice of the Pies, Avalon Park: Successful, socially conscious black woman-owned business seeks to expand operations by activating vacant building with production kitchen, retail counter and dining area, demo kitchen for culinary workshops and workforce development and educational programs.
  • Latinos Progresando, South Lawndale: Latinos Progresando is acquiring and rehabilitating a former Chicago Public Library branch that has been vacant since 2009, returning it to its original community service vocation. The building will house a health clinic operated by Esperanza Health Centers, a federally licensed health center and an after-school program run by the Lincoln Park Zoo. Additional services will include vocational training, business development, legal and social services.
  • North Lawndale Employment Network, North Lawndale: The campus development will bring together programs currently offered in four separate locations. The campus will include a range of community service and economic development uses, including expanded classrooms, industry-specific training rooms and computer labs; production and retail space for NLEN’s Sweet Beginnings LLC honey product social enterprise; a center of financial opportunities; a new retail bank branch; a community meeting room, a peace garden and a garden place.
  • PODER Headquarters, Gage Park: Adaptive Reuse Project will serve as a center for immigrant integration and vocational training, including English language and workforce development programs and other partner resources of the community and the city of Chicago.
  • Urban core, South Shore: The project will provide health and wellness services by restoring a vacant building. The main storefront will be a yoga studio, with the other storefronts being made up of businesses that support the organization’s mission of healthy living.
  • Xquina Incubator and Café, South Lawndale: The Business Incubator will positively impact the community by providing an open, accessible and inclusive learning environment through adaptable and culturally relevant programming and coaching. Public and private capital will redevelop approximately 13,000 square feet of retail space, including a business incubator, coworking office, local café and shared commercial kitchen.

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