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Controversial Englewood Cross Builder To Help Students Feed The Needy

 Greg Zanis at the memorial at 5500 S. Bishop
Greg Zanis at the memorial at 5500 S. Bishop
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

ENGLEWOOD — A retired carpenter who erected a controversial memorial to the city's murder victims in  Englewood is helping students in the community build wooden boxes that serves as mini-food pantries.

Greg Zanis, a West Side native who lives in Aurora, put up a few dozen wooden crosses in a lot he was given in the 5500 block of South Bishop Street in January. At first, there were 44 crosses, but now the total is up to 105 and growing weekly, he said.

The crosses have garnered a lot of attention, both from victims' families who support them and other members of the community — including the anti-violence "Army of Moms" — who say they focus too much on death.

The negative attention led a teacher at Lindblom Math and Science Academy to ask Zanis to get involved in another project. That project, part of a competition, involves designing four small wooden boxes that will store food and be set out around Englewood, including outside the school at 6130 S. Wolcott Ave. for those who need it. The students still are working out most of the logistics of the project, Zanis said.

“I think this is great," said Zanis. “I’ve let each student do a part of the assembly, but I’ve brought my drill. They measured out everything and they made the drawings.”

He added: “I get requests every day for stuff, but I just love the idea of giving back. This is something that may be able to expand because it's simple.”

He said he's grateful for the opportunity to work with the students from Englewood, whom too many people stereotype.

“I'm seeing all of this from an outsider’s view, from a position where people slam Chicago all the time and they don't understand that their kids are just like our kids, they're bright, too,” he said.

Tamar Manasseh, founder of the Mothers Against Senseless Killing (the "Army of Moms"), welcomed his efforts to work with the community.

“I'm happy to hear he's helping, and I’m glad to see he's working with youth to preserve life in the community, and not just finding new and improved ways for us to memorialize those who have been slain.”

Manasseh, who grew up on the block where the crosses are on display, questioned why he’s focused on Englewood when violence is a citywide issue.

“There’s violence happening everywhere,” she said.

There were plans to host a community meeting with 16th Ward Ald. Toni Foulkes, the Resident Association of Greater Englewood and MASK, but after the first meeting got canceled, nothing has be rescheduled, Zanis said.