Prosper Chicago is a small nonprofit organization focused on providing an innovative solution to food insecurity. They are making big moves as they work to increase food access in Chicago. Prosper was originally founded during the peak of the COVID-19 Pandemic as Feed Chicago, providing hot and ready meals to frontline workers, students, and families with the goal of keeping restaurant workers employed while feeding those in need. In 2021, they reimagined their mission and became Prosper Chicago.
Barriers to food access such as eligibility, time, and proximity limit the number of people who are able to participate in traditional food relief programs. Prosper works to remove these barriers by directly communicating with Chicago Public School (CPS) staff and community leaders to get a well-informed needs analysis. While discussing what Prosper uniquely offers the communities they serve, Indigo Niznik-Darden, Program Coordinator for Prosper Chicago, said: “Prosper uses an online ordering model that most of us are familiar with through our texting platform. By streamlining the process, students and families can easily order their meals whenever needed”. Participants text the platform and are provided with a list of restaurants, they select the restaurant and menu items they would like to order, and then pick their food up like any other patron. The high level of accessibility the mobile ordering platform offers gives participants the ability to obtain meals from a wide variety of local restaurants at any time. The organization prioritizes independent, minority-owned restaurants in the ordering options to provide prepaid meals to those in need. The simple structure of the program shows that there is an easy way to get a meal. It puts students and families’ ability to choose what they eat, how they eat, and when they eat back into their own hands.
The beautiful thing about Prosper Chicago is, they do not limit their reach to one particular community. Through their partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS), they are able to connect with guidance counselors and social workers from private and public schools to reach students and families who would benefit from their meal ordering model, including those who may not be eligible to receive federal food assistance. “It’s about getting out of the mindset that people who need food assistance are only low income. There are folks that are on medium income that are also struggling to make ends meet but are excluded from receiving additional resources because they’re just above the minimum criteria” (Indigo Niznik-Darden). Prosper Chicago’s method of outreach and coordination allows them to stand in the gap between traditional meal programs and the home. They want to provide an additional resource when school meal programs and federal assistance are not enough to make ends meet.
Prosper understands that hunger and health education go hand in hand. Indigo stressed that “It’s not just about meals, it’s about knowledge too”. They host learning programs where nutrition access and education are broken down into bite size pieces for parents and kids to understand and possibly incorporate it into their daily life. Prosper Chicago intentionally creates space for community members to come together, learn, and just breath. This is a form of community investment and growth; it shows how engaging with communities on a personal level to figure out how to best serve them is of paramount importance. Prosper Chicago’s mobile ordering model is a concept more organizations could utilize to make food more accessible. In the future, the organization hopes to implement their mobile meal program in as many schools as possible! No Kid Hungry Illinois is proud to have Prosper Chicago as a partner, and we are eager to see them continue to grow and revitalize their approach to food insecurity in Chicago.
If interested in supporting Prosper Chicago, visit https://www.prosperchicago.org/ to learn more!