December 07, 2023

Relief funds for non-profits: New grants focus on hunger, local food system business disruption

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Living near Kankakee were among nine non-profit organizations awarded grants aimed at bolstering local food systems.

The Chicago Region Food System Fund awarded $100,000 to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and $120,000 to Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Living in the initial round of grants in response to the immediate pandemic impacts on communities in Chicago and on food producers, processors and distributors in the region.

Grant applications continue to be accepted by the Food System Fund for non-profit organizations.

The Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Farmer Resiliency Initiative will help Illinois farms invest in collaborative relationships and critical infrastructure to scale up and adapt their business models to the rapidly increased demand for locally-produced food in response to the pandemic.

The initiative is intended to support on-farm improvements and collaborative marketing structures among farmers who needed to pivot from primarily restaurant sales to selling direct-to-consumers when the shelter-in-place order went into effect.

Liz Moran Stelk, ISA’s executive director, said information will be released in the near future regarding grant opportunities through the Farmer Resiliency Initiative.

In response to COVID-19, Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Living in Pembroke, the historically African-American farming region of Illinois near Kankakee, will operate a mobile food market focused on the south suburbs.

In addition to its Rx Food Bags, BOC will deliver food boxes in collaboration with Gourmet Gorilla’s USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program on Chicago’s South Side and in the south suburbs.

Other grant recipients were Artisan Grain Collaborative, $50,000; Chicago Food Policy Action Council, $75,000; Chinese American Service League, $80,000; Green City Market, $125,000; Plant Chicago, $25,000; Street Vendors Association of Chicago, $120,000; and Urban Growers Collective, $200,000.

With an initial investment of $4.2 million, the Chicago Region Food System Fund focuses on hunger and business disruption in the local food system — from production to processing to distribution to consumption — in an area approximately 200 miles from Chicago.

Current, Long-Term

From May through August, grant priorities are being given to COVID-19 response and food system strengthening. Beginning in September, the fund will focus on building long-term resilience for a future food system capable of handling shocks like COVID-19.

In Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, funding consideration includes non-profits serving: urban farmers; food hubs and cooperatives; farmers markets; community organizations with close ties to informal community associations; food businesses — processors, distributors, slaughterhouses, retail, restaurants and institutional providers; food chain workers impacted by COVID-19 or at high risk of contracting the virus; emergency food system support; and wasted food projects.

Funding consideration in other regions of Illinois, southeast Wisconsin, northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan is for non-profits serving rural farmers, food aggregation hubs and food processors that include the Chicago metropolitan area as part of their market. This includes non-profits supporting food chain workers impacted by COVID-19 or at high risk of contracting the virus.

Application Info

To apply, visit Before being considered to submit a full application, interested organizations will be asked to fill out an initial screening questionnaire. Only 501(c)(3) organizations are eligible to apply.

Screening questionnaires can be submitted until 5 p.m. on July 29. Inquiries will be reviewed and funds disbursed on a rolling basis.

Founding donors making the Chicago Region Local Food System Fund possible are the Builders Initiative, Food:Land:Opportunity funded through the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust, Fresh Taste, Little Owl Foundation, the Lumpkin Family Foundation, Walder Foundation and Walter Mander Foundation. The fund welcomes additional support.

“This initial round of grants represents the diversity of communities and approaches the fund is designed to support,” said Karen Lehman, Chicago Region Food System Fund manager and Fresh Taste director.

“Recipients are urban and rural, with strong representation from communities of color. They are at the cutting edge of response to the challenges — and opportunities for change — COVID-19 and the national movement for racial justice represent. We are confident that their efforts will make a tangible and important difference in the communities they serve, the food system and the broader community.”

“The regional food economy centered in and around Chicago is a vital market for rural farmers, food aggregators and processors across four surrounding states in the Upper Midwest,” said Daniel Doyle, Lumpkin Family Foundation program officer.

“Equipping all points in the food shed to adapt and function in the face of so much disruption ensures we prioritize support for what we have in order to build toward what we hope to see as both critical parts of an interconnected system and in service to smaller, local communities both urban and rural.”