StreetWise is a workforce development agency in Chicago whose purpose is to help the homeless and those at risk of homelessness by providing a pathway out of poverty. “A hand up, not a handout,” is how they describe it.
If you have ever visited Chicago chances are that you have encountered someone selling StreetWise Magazine on a street corner through the organization’s employment program. Some StreetWise vendors may be peddling something tastier from street corners in the years to come.
Recently, StreetWise partnered with Neighbor Capital, a social enterprise that focuses on sustainable solutions to health, job creation, and promotion of the environment and green spaces in underserved communities, to create Neighbor Carts.
Neighbor Carts are mobile fruit stands that will address two issues facing Chicago: access to healthy foods, and unemployment.
For years Chicagoans have been buying and selling fruits and vegetables on the streets in defiance of the law. But this summer Chicago legalized produce stands in effort to reduce by half the 450,000 city residents living in food deserts.
Under the amended ordinance there are an unlimited number of licenses that allow entrepreneurs to set up mobile fruit stands on private property, and in 30 public way locations throughout Chicago.
The Fruits of Being Neighborly
Fruit vendors who have been operating in the shadows can now operate their businesses in compliance of the law. Entrepreneurs who are unemployed and underemployed can go through the StreetWise program where they will received training and eventually become their own boss.
Upon completion of the program, Neighbor Cart vendors will have tax ID numbers, their own license, independent bank accounts to track and manage their funds, and they will be empowered to find other business opportunities. It is estimated that each fruit stand will create three jobs.
Already some fruit vendors have upgraded their homemade fruit carts to Neighbor Carts’ stainless steel carts. For now Neighbor Carts buys produce from a large wholesaler, but there is the possibility of partnering vendors with local community gardens and urban farms.
A project that fosters access to healthy foods, supports entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and economic independence. What's not to like?