Everybody needs to eat. And in Chicago, Grocery Run Club is helping to make sure nobody ever goes without a meal.
Founded by two born-and-raised Chicago residents Jorge Saldarriaga and Lucy Angel who proudly rep their city and Latin heritage every chance they get, Grocery Run Club is an amazing organization that supplies food and other essentials free of charge to underprivileged and underserved neighborhoods. Using a subscription-based donation system that is sure to soon be utilized by community outreach and philanthropic groups everywhere, Jorge and Lucy are definitely innovators when it comes to selflessly helping others.
We're proud to have Lucy and Jorge share with us all the great work Grocery Run Club is doing for Chicago in the interview below, where you can learn what they do, why they do it, and how you can get involved to make the future a little brighter in the Windy City.
First, please introduce yourselves, and share anything you think everyone should know about you.
Jorge: What up world! My name is Jorge Saldarriaga, a born and raised Chicago kid from the North Side of the city. I grew up in Ravenswood and Portage Park and I’m a Colombian-American. I love all things culture and have always gravitated to food, drink, and streetwear as avenues that allowed myself to learn more about the world. Back in the day you could catch me at a couple of different restaurants and bars making and slingin’ drinks and food. More recently I’ve dove into the marketing world and am now the Cultural Market Manager for Diageo Brands in Chicago. I partner with event organizers throughout the city, predominantly from marginalized communities, and sponsor culturally relevant and impactful events. If I’m not on my work tip, I’m at Grocery Run Club working on partnerships and logistics on how we can feed and impact our underserved communities in our city.
Lucy: Hi all. My name is Lucy and I’m one half of Grocery Run Club. First and foremost, I’m a Chicago kid through and through. I LOVE telling people and reminding them I’m from Chicago (laughs). I’m a proud first generation Mexican-American woman and the founder of Luce Ends, a cultural programming and event production agency in Chicago. I love bringing people together to foster & build community. Prior to that, my life was in the hospitality industry. I worked closely with Chicago chefs Stephanie Izard and Paul Kahan, both who really helped me lean into the importance of food and how it tells parts of our story. During normal times, you could usually catch me snacking and drinking a cocktail on a patio, rocking one of my one million vintage Bulls tees. These days you can catch Jorge and I driving around the south and west sides bringing essentials to our communities through Grocery Run Club.
What is Grocery Run Club? How exactly does it work?
Both: Grocery Run Club is a community driven initiative that partners with organizations to supply fresh produce and everyday necessities to underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. We believe that when basic human needs are met, it's easier to overcome the inequities of everyday life. GRC was created to organize, mobilize, and partner with folks that are able to donate their time, money and knowledge for the greater good of our city. It specifically works similarly to a monthly membership plan ie. Hulu, Apple Music etc. The club member chooses an amount they feel comfortable contributing per month. GRC then takes that monthly allowance and every dollar goes into purchasing fresh produce and everyday necessities. These items are distributed to our community partners and those they serve on a weekly basis.
It’s really important for us to partner with organizations who are already on the ground serving their communities. Even though we’re from Chicago, we don’t know the exact needs and struggles of all 77 neighborhoods in the city. Finding partners who already know that of their communities and can turn to us to let us know what they need, makes it easy for all parties.
What was your inspiration for founding it?
Jorge: We wanted to do something for our city. As born and raised Chicago kids we had this natural instinct to jump to answer all these different calls to action, but we wanted to do it our way. We wanted to focus on how we could package intentional, culturally affirming, community work, in a way that resonated with individuals throughout the city and made them want to help one another out as well.
Lucy: I second what Jorge said and more specifically, we were trying to find our lane on how to help our city through the crazy times we are experiencing. COVID-19 and the civil unrest really exposed all of the inequities that have BEEN taking place on the south and west sides of the city, which are predominantly black and brown communities. When we started to volunteer with different organizations in June, we saw first hand just how much support was needed to help vulnerable folks that were experiencing food insecurity and in general were having a hard time getting everyday needs. We felt like we could gather up a group of our friends, raise funds and take action into our own hands. The idea grew into Grocery Run Club two weeks after that.
What neighborhoods do you primarily service?
Both: On a weekly basis we currently serve North Lawndale, Little Village, Austin, Englewood, Bronzeville, Kenwood, Archer Heights, and Gage Park.
I understand that Grocery Run Club was just founded this year. Were you both doing anything like this previously?
Jorge: We definitely were bringing people together and building community through both of our jobs and were volunteering at different organizations from time to time before we founded Grocery Run Club, but we weren’t doing anything like this previously. One of the organizations we loved volunteering for, and that we now have partnered with, is Pilot Light Chefs. Pilot Light’s mission is to support students through food education: bridging the lessons they learn in their classrooms to the foods on their lunch trays, at home, and in their communities. We had some experience volunteering and helping but we never thought we were going to take it this far!
Lucy: GRC was founded in July of this year! Even though we weren’t doing anything exactly like this before, all of our work has always been about building community and showing up for our city in whatever way she needs us to show up. Because we’ve always been about that mentality and folks from all parts of our lives have lent a hand/time/money/resources, it feels like GRC is just an extension of what we’ve been doing for years.
Are you still expanding your outreach into new communities in Chicago as you go, or do you think you’re already in a pretty good place?
Both: Yes! We want to make sure we can support as many organizations and neighborhoods as possible with the funds we receive. The more donations both monetary & product-wise we receive, the more organizations we’re able to take on. We also have a lot of flexibility in supporting one time pop-up distributions in new neighborhoods.
Does Grocery Run Club have plans to expand beyond Chicago?
Both: Yes, although not right now! We really believe the model we have going is something that can be replicated in any city as long as you have folks that are willing to come together and show up for those in need. Right now, we’re concentrating on fine-tuning our logistics and systems so we can impact more communities and residents in Chicago.
Are there any similar organizations in Chicago that you’ve either worked with or just respect and support in general that you’d like to shout out?
Both: The organizations below are just some that we’ve worked with through Grocery Run Club. We’ve partnered with them because we believe in their mission and the incredible work they do in the neighborhoods they are in.
What can somebody interested in your cause do to help?
Both: There are so many ways to help! If your pockets allow, you can start off by heading to our Instagram or website and clicking the donate button. If you want to volunteer, send us a note for current opportunities. If you’re a brand that wants to support with a product donation or larger way, we love that too! Most importantly though, just be a good human and figure out what you can do to help your neighbors during these difficult times. Listen, be conscious, and communicate with one another.
Portrait of Jorge and Lucy by Anna Jung-Hwa Heyward. All photos courtesy of Grocery Run Club.