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250 Boxes of Food Given To Garfield Park Residents Left In The Dust By Aldi's Abrupt Exit

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In the West Garfield Park neighborhood, a grocery store moves out and hope moves in, in the form of an emergency food giveaway.

CBS 2's Marissa Parra shows us what was done today, and what advocates are pushing for tomorrow.

It's been almost one month since the boards went up and the doors closed for the final time at the Garfield Park Aldi, seemingly without warning

Volunteers spent Saturday stepping in and stepping up; giving away food only feet away from where groceries used to be sold.

"This Aldi's been here since as long as I've been here, and to see it just go away is definitely devastating, especially for the community," said Leoshay Dobbs, who works in community engagement at Rush University Medical Center.

The Aldi grocery store that served West Garfield Park for three decades shuttered suddenly nearly one month ago.

"I wish the Lord they would put it back," said Earlene Boyle, who lives across the street.

Boyle now takes a bust to the nearest grocery store, a Save A Lot almost a mile away, not exactly an easy trip at her age.

"I'm 81 years old, and so that takes a whole lot of time for me," she said.

An Aldi spokesperson cited "declining sales," adding that the now-shuttered store had been operating "at a loss for several years."

"Nearly a month ago, we made the difficult decision to permanently close our store located at 3835 W. Madison. We take the closing of this location very seriously. Our decision was based on several factors, including consistently declining sales and the fact that we've operated this location at a loss for several years. Poor sales performance and increased expenses have simply made it unsustainable to keep the store open," the company said in a statement. "We have been proud to serve the residents of the West Garfield Park neighborhood over the past 30 years, and we thank our customers for their loyalty. We look forward to continuing to serve them at one of our many stores nearby, including a store at 800 N. Kedzie, which is just over one mile from the former location on W. Madison."

Not everyone is buying Aldi's explanation.

"Who is to blame? Well, first is Aldi themselves," said Dr. David Ansell, senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center. "It's an act of violence, because people have been put in harm's way by Aldi's leaving, and access to fresh foods and vegetables removed from the community."

Ansell is part of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative (GPRWC) team who organized the emergency food distribution on Saturday.

"Life expectancy in this neighborhood is the lowest in the West Side of Chicago; many, many causes, but number one is cardiovascular disease, for which food is medicine," Ansell said. "You have four senior buildings within walking distance here, half the people in this neighborhood don't have cars."

Volunteers distributed 250 boxes' worth of food to eager West Garfield Park residents, some of whom lined up hours ahead of time.

"I got carrots, I got some good vegetables, I love vegetables," said Warren Gardner, who lives across the street, sifting through his bags. "A big ole chicken! That's even better."

As families loaded carts, advocates were looking forward.

"We're going to be out here for the next six weeks, but after the six weeks, what's next? How are people going to get access to healthy food aside from gas stations or corner stores?" said Dobbs, gesturing towards the corner store across the street, with a sign that says "Madison Supermarket" next to images advertising soda and chips. "You can't make a meal out of that."

GPRWC said they've been in contact with Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), pushing to bring a new affordable grocery store in Aldi's place.

The Garfield Park Rite To Wellness Collaborative has a series of food giveaways planned over the next several weeks at the former Aldi store. They are planning food giveaways on four additional Saturdays: Nov. 13, Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18. A special giveaway ahead of Thanksgiving already was planned for Friday, Nov. 19, at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, which will take care of food for families for two week, since there won't be one on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day.

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