ENGLEWOOD — A small group of Lindblom Math & Science Academy students have vowed to start eating healthier — and they want to share the love with their friends, families and neighbors.
“We’re trying to break the cycle and let people know there are other options out there,” said 17-year-old junior Kaitlin Kirk, a Beverly resident. She said she notices a lot of students eating junk food after school.
Kirk is one of eight students participating in the Aspen Challenge, which asks teens to "break junk food cycles by empowering yourself, your peers, and your family to understand, cook, and eat real food.”
The challenge comes to Lindblom from Joan Haug, chief of staff to the CEO and founder of Colorado-based The Kitchen Community, which works to drive better eating habits through a little healthy competition.
The Lindblom group is competing against other Chicago schools including Wendell Phillips Academy, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and Northside College Prep High School.
The “Students Understanding, Preparing and Eating Real Food” team, or SUPERFood for short, was recruited by Gina Caneva, the school’s librarian and English teacher.
To meet the challenge, the team decided to build wooden boxes that will serve as mini-food pantries. Since none of the kids had carpentry skills, they enlisted the help of a retired carpenter who has done work in the neighborhood.
Lindblom students participating in the Aspen Challenge are building small boxes like this to stock up with healthy free snacks. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Greg Zanis, a West Side native who lives in Aurora, has received a lot of media attention recently over the memorials he erects to the city's murder victims in Englewood.
When the students reached out for his help in learning the basics of woodworking, he said he was happy to jump in.
“I think this is great," Zanis said. “I’ve let each student do a part of the assembly. They measured out everything, and they made the drawings.”
“I get requests every day for stuff, but I just love the idea of giving back," Zanis said. "This is something that may be able to expand, because it's simple.”
The plan is to build four of the wooden boxes, fill them up with healthy snacks like granola bars, popcorn — the healthy version — and fruits, and make them available to students and the community. The boxes will be installed outside of Lindblom, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave., Earle STEM Academy, IGrowChicago and Metropolitan Family Services.
Greg Zanis shows students how to build the wooden box. Kaitlin Kirk (right) help with the project. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Kirk said the experience has been a lot of fun, and she’s looking forward to the larger impact this initiative will have on the community. The team already has events planned to show students how to prepare healthy foods. They will be leading a pancake demonstration at Earle and a grilled cheese lunch at Lindblom.
Group member Curtis Robinson, 17, said that he’s been having fun and his favorite part of the project has been building the boxes.
“I feel like a pro already,” he said. “It’s fun, and I’m realizing that I like building.”
Caneva said this challenge has been a great lesson for the students.
“Some of them have never cooked before, so they’re doing things they’ve never done before,” she said. “The first time they got a screw all the way into the plywood, they were cheering, and just so excited. They’re really thinking outside the box.”
The students are working to secure food donations from Whole Foods and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Caneva said. They hope to receive enough that they can continue to replenish the boxes. They’re also trying to get Home Depot to donate materials so they can build more boxes.
The Rev. Otis Davis Jr., pastor of Repairer of the Breach Ministry, 2034 W. 51st St., has been one of the pastors at the weekly vigils Zanis holds on the empty lot filled with crosses. Davis said he heard about what the students were doing through Zanis and wanted to be a part of it. They’re building an additional box for him.
“It is absolutely fascinating to see the students getting involved and becoming more active in their community, as well as addressing some of the needs of the community,” he said.