What If Donated Food Was Delightful?

This is one of a pair of stories exploring efforts to make donated food healthier, more delicious and more dignified. You can read the other story here.

Dion Dawson’s day starts around 8 am at the corner of 59th Street and Racine Avenue in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Most days, his six-year-old son Bryson accompanies him, eager to help stock the community fridge labeled with “FREE FOOD” in sky blue letters. Usually, the area’s residents have already gathered around the fridge, which has been spray-painted with happy cows, bright red apples, yellow corn and potatoes, as Dawson puts in oranges, lettuce and strawberries. He hands out bananas and grapes, too.

“Always grapes,” he emphasized. “When I grew up food insecure, I never got to eat fresh grapes, ever. So I make sure we always have fresh grapes. That may not be cost effective, but it makes a difference.”

Dawson sets up the Chicago nonprofit Dion’s Chicago Dream and the community fridge in 2020. He added a free weekly produce home delivery service in 2021. Both address the lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables endemic to food deserts — areas that lack supermarkets and are typically low-income. They are also inspired by Dawson’s past food insecurity as well as his negative experiences with donation boxes from food banks.

“More than 500,000 Chicago residents live in a food desert,” Dawson says, citing American Community Survey data. “More than half of our residents will be food insecure in our community within this

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