How would you react if you saw members of your community struggling? If you were Dion Dawson, you would do something about it.
Dawson, a native of the Englewood neighborhood of South Chicago, witnessed his community suffering during the early months of 2020 following the impacts of the pandemic. Across the nation, people lost their jobs, schools closed, and food insecurity spiked — Englewood was no different. The Greater Chicago Food Dispensary reported a 120 percent increase in demand for their services.
Instead of just thinking about how his neighbors were in need, Dawson sprang into action. He set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $2,500 to feed 100 families in Englewood. Not only did he raise the money in less than 24 hours, people wanted to donate more.
Dawson grew up in Englewood and experienced food insecurity off and on during his childhood. After school, he left home for the U.S. Navy where he worked as a journalist for six years – always knowing he would come back to support his community. Dawson uses many of the skills from his time in the military to run and promote Dion’s Chicago Dream, whose mission is to provide transparent operations, consistent programming, and a commitment to quality.
These tenets are welcome additions to the lives of many Englewood families and individuals. Residents make about 50 percent less than the average Chicagoan, and the neighborhood is further constrained by a lack of grocery stores where residents can purchase healthy, quality foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Many families are dependent on food pantries for fresh items but quality and availability is often inconsistent. Dion’s Chicago Dream seeks to fill this gap. The Dream Fridge, a free community fridge in the neighborhood, is stocked five days a week with produce from Walmart and Mariano’s and delivery boxes are distributed weekly to recipients from by J.A.B. Produce.
Like many nonprofits, Dawson is constrained by access to capital to address the full problem of food insecurity in Englewood. He’s been told that giving free food is a handicap for people. But like many, Dawson believes access to healthy food is a human right for all individuals, regardless of income. For this reason, recipients are not required to show proof of income in order to qualify. Dawson believes that if people want healthy produce, they probably need it.
“Food access and love are universal — we all deserve them,” Dawson told us.
On the horizon
While some organizations may be developing five and ten year plans for growth, Dawson wants to continue to focus on what is in front of him: feeding the people in immediate need of healthy foods. He notes that the most rewarding part of his work is actually being able to do it and still feels grateful for his ability to provide services to the community. In addition to continuing his work, Dawson seeks to contribute to the food access conversation to address the inequities in our food system.
If you are interested in learning more about Dion’s Chicago Dream and how to support their work, check out their website or connect with Dawson on LinkedIn to follow his contributions to the food access conversation.