ENGLEWOOD — The Englewood Food Network plans to do more than hand out free food baskets to needy families this year. A lot more.
The nonprofit is hoping to persuade banks to donate foreclosed or vacant homes to its neighborhood redevelopment program this year, and also provide financing that would allow it to rehab homes to sell or rent in Englewood and other neighborhoods.
By doing so, executive director Dennis Ware said it could create new jobs while also reducing the need for more food pantries and even shelters.
"Food is a necessity. It is something we cannot live without. Well, jobs have become a necessity, too. That's why more are needed in our community," Ware said. "The reason there is a need for food pantries is because people don't have jobs. And there are plenty of jobs in the home building industry."
Food pantries serve as a safety net for needy families who do not get food stamps, said Ware, a tradesman who owns a south suburban roofing company with his son.
"But there is no safety net for people who need housing besides shelters," Ware added. "If we are able to rehab five homes a year that could reduce the need for more shelters."
The 70-year-old Woodlawn resident said the food network, which was created in 2001, was looking last year for ways to provide job training and realized the endless opportunities in rehabbing homes.
There are a lot of vacant homes and empty lots in Englewood that could be put to better use, Ware said.
"Some blocks have 10 or more vacant homes, and most are in need of repairs," said Ware, who is a deacon at Beautiful Zion Baptist Church, 1406 W. 64th St., where the food network is based.
Ware said the nonprofit already has received one home donated from a bank that is ready to be rehabbed. Once financing is secured, which he estimated would be this year, "the 'real' work will begin," he said.
There are dozens of food pantries in Englewood, and the food network represents 26 of them.
One that is a part of the food network is the Uncle Shack Food Blessing, 1818 W. 74th St., which is operated by Brenda Rose, mother of Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose.
Ultimately, Ware said the nonprofit would hire someone to sell, rent and manage the homes. Proceeds from the properties would go to the nonprofit to help further its cause of helping people, he said.
"Housing is something that will always be needed no matter where you go," Ware said. "It is a necessity that we cannot live without."