A brainstorming session between Arthur Paris, owner of Carnival Grocery, and Anthony Clark, founder of Suburban Unity Alliance, hatched a plan to stock three community “unity fridges” with full turkey dinners in advance of the holiday.
“Anthony was in here shopping a couple of weeks ago and we started discussing what we could do to support the community during the holidays,” said Paris. “He came back with the idea of stocking the fridges for Thanksgiving.”
Suburban Unity Alliance and Carnival Grocery partnered with Best of Proviso Township and Engaged Berwyn to collect goods and assemble meal boxes containing stuffing mix, canned cranberries, rice, macaroni and cheese, corn, yams, green beans, and holiday pie. Each box also included access to a fresh turkey to be picked up at Carnival. The drive, promoted on social media and held on Nov. 21 at Carnival Grocery, yielded enough items to fill 30 boxes to distribute equally between the three refrigerators.
“This is so powerful because food insecurity is a person-made problem and this is a person made solution,” said Clark. “The community provided everything we needed to fill 30 boxes for the three fridges, and we expect it all to be gone tomorrow.”
Oak Park’s first Community Fridge arrived in Oak Park last May at Carnival Grocery, 824 S. Oak Park Ave., the second arrived at Euclid Methodist Church, 405 S. Euclid Ave., and third in the front yard of the apartment building at 804 S. 17th Ave, Maywood. The refrigerators, started by Clark, are stocked by the community and offer 24/7 access to free food including canned goods and perishables. Differing from a charity, the “unity fridges” operate as mutual aid systems where members of the community work together to support the needs of people living in the community.
“I feel like it is a responsibility of businesses in the community to show support to people in the community,” said Paris. “In our society we work to be successful and sharing what you have with someone who has less just makes sense.”
Paris and Clark are already having discussions about hosting another holiday meal drive in December. Paris has also intensified Carnival’s commitment to working with community philanthropies. Paris is open to partnerships and encourages residents to bring their suggestions to Carnival saying he is more interested in encouraging people to shop at the Oak Park Avenue market to support a worthwhile cause than sending out advertising flyers.
“Acts like this separate a small community grocer from a larger corporate run entity,” said Clark. “Arthur is invested in the people in this community and the surrounding areas.”
Ninia Linero who volunteered to pack boxes full of stuffing and potatoes during the drive noted that food insecurity is difficult to experience, but it is especially difficult during the holidays saying, “this is a time for everyone to show generosity.”