Black and Latino residents are three to four times more likely to be financially vulnerable than their white counterparts, according to a study by the Financial Health Network earlier this year. For many, that means they are unable to pay all of their bills on time, and about 4 in 10 reported that they experienced food insecurity because of it, in the last year.
Government at all levels looks to improve food access, advancing racial justice and equity for low-income, underserved communities. Still, barriers like immigration status, language, and transportation prevent Latinos from tapping into resources. Adding to the dismay, pandemic-era benefit programs have lapsed. Many of the food pantry pop-ups that sprang up for a couple of months, stopped when government funding ran out. But they had already become a food source community members below the poverty level relied upon.
In response to the need, the Gage Park Latinx Council, a queer, femme, DACA, and Latinx-led grassroots organization based on Chicago’s Southwest Side, launched the year-round initiative El Mercadito – a free community market that provides culturally reflective food to families in our community.
Santos said that it is important for El Mercadito to distribute culturally reflective food. “The families that we are serving are not going to know what to do with quinoa or powdered milk,” he said. “So, we give out tortillas and tomatoes, jalapenos and whatever the people who are coming to us are asking.”
Santos also shared how the GPLXC creates youth spaces; especially for those with few resources who find it difficult to be inspired, creative, and socialize. “When we opened the GPLXC Cultural Center, we wanted to make it a welcoming, warm, comfortable environment,” Santos said. Services include mentoring for young people who are often the first members of their family to pursue a higher education. In addition to educational and creative programs, Santos says the GPLXC provides an opportunity for young people to relax. “I think there’s not a lot of emphasis in letting people in our communities have spaces to just be,” he said. “School can be stressful. Many of the young people in our community are also helping their families financially. They’re raising their siblings. If a teenager can come into our space and play video games for a while, or read a book, or talk with friends – that’s really transformational.”
“3 Questions With…” is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN), an independent, multimedia digital news outlet with local newsrooms in the Northeast and Midwest, including IL Latino News and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community centric news, hyperlocal stories and educational resources.