#WeSeeYou: Inside One Chicago Woman’s Vision To Get The South Side Healthy
Consider it a luxury to be able to walk to your local grocery store and grab fresh fruits and vegetables because for 23.5 million Americans access to quality fresh foods isn’t the case. The USDA defines food deserts as, “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” Organizations and communities are starting to take active steps towards solving these health and access issues in our community. Hummus dip maker, Sabra, has launched a pilot program called “Plants with Purpose” in the Richmond, Virginia area to address food deserts. The program provides nutrition and culinary education, an on-site garden and other community support to increase community access to fresh foods.
Andrea NaTay, the founder of Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC and the annual “Ditch the Weight & Guns” Englewood 5K Run and Walk, is bringing fresh fruit and vegetable vending machines to a South Side Chicago community desperately in need. NaTay, an Englewood native, is looking to solve her community’s food disparity issues by providing not only a service but a host of workshops aimed at healthy eating and lifestyle choices. Her conversation with BlackDoctor.org reveals this social entrepreneur’s master vision for the revitalization of South Side Chicago.
BlackDoctor.org: Food deserts exist in a lot of communities in Chicago. Your organization is trying something revolutionary by trying to install fruit and vegetable vending machines in underserved communities. How did this idea come about? Where are you in the process of making this a reality? What has been the public response?
Andrea NaTay: According to a policy report by the University of Chicago Policy Research Team on Food Access in Four South Side Chicago Neighborhoods, “Greater Englewood is currently faced with several issues related to food accessibility, including transportation barriers, the high cost of fresh produce, and a lack of adequate food sources serving the area.” In order to reduce or eliminate certain health disparities within impoverished communities, accessibility, affordability, and education of fresh produce must stand at the forefront of any plan of action.
By placing packaged fresh fruits and vegetables for purchase in vending machines located in schools, libraries, businesses, and churches within the Greater Englewood community, we are addressing accessibility and availability. By making the products affordable, we are addressing affordability. By conducting food workshops, demonstrations, and taste testing sessions, we are addressing education.
In all honesty, we are not being revolutionary or innovative because another company has placed mason jars filled with delicious salads inside of vending machines for purchase. Unfortunately, this company does not have any vending machines on the South Side of Chicago. What I have learned as a businesswoman working in underserved and under sourced communities is that consumer needs outweigh consumer wants. Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC vending machines will specifically be placed in underserved communities within Chicago. Currently, we are in the planning process of creating fresh fruit and vegetable vending machines, yet very close to turning the vision into a reality. We are expected to launch Fall 2016. Because of established relationships built between the Greater Englewood community and Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC, the response has been positive and supportive. On the other hand, sometimes others do not see your vision or big picture, however you have to execute in spite of.
BlackDoctor.org: From reading your bio on your website it appears that you made a significant lifestyle change that not only benefited you, but also others. Was this the driving force behind starting Forever Fitness Chicago?
Andrea NaTay: Hunger and survival was the driving force behind creating Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC. Before being arrested on May 16, 2012 for the felony criminal charge of possession of 30-500 grams of cannabis, I did not workout consistently. While awaiting sentencing,working out and prayer became my solace. Working out consistently not only improved my physical health; it vastly improved my mental health. Once my mental health improved during one of the most troubling times in my life, I realized as a convicted felon, the odds of getting a job that pays my worth was virtually impossible, therefore I created a job. While enrolled as a student at National Personal Training Institute in 2013, Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC was birthed. As a Social Entrepreneur my target demographic became the place where I was born and raised, Englewood, located on the South Side of Chicago.