Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=210099
Story Retrieval Date: 12/21/2014 7:30:21 AM CST

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Brooke Workneh/MEDILL

Ted Tines (right)shares a joke with his friend Calvin Brown at Tines' North Lawndale fruit and produce cart.


Neighbor Carts mentors entrepreneurs who sell communities on healthy foods

by Brooke Workneh
Nov 07, 2012


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Brooke Workneh/MEDILL

Neighbor Carts vendors offer a variety of healthy food options.

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Tines plans to  keep his cart open even as temperatures drop through the winter.

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Brooke Workneh/MEDILL

Tines fruit cart is easily accessible off the pink line at the Central Park or Pulaski-Cermak stops.

After a 30-year struggle with heroin, Chicagoan Ted Tines is running his own fruit cart and ready for his wedding.

Drug addict turned successful street vendor, Tines will celebrate his third year of sobriety in December. Tines attributes his recovery to Neighbor Carts and Hope House, an organization that provides a supportive environment to those transitioning out of homelessness and struggling with addiction.

Apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, bananas and oranges fill Tines' fruit stand at the corner of Ogden and Hamlin avenues. A stream of customers stop by on their way to and from the Central Park L stop.

“I was homeless,” Tines said, “but then I was introduced to Hope House,” he points to a yellow brick building across the street. “It’s for drug addicts and homeless people, I happened to be both.”

Tines said he hit rock bottom. “I didn’t care about life anymore, never thought I’d get off of drugs until I came here.” Having tried everything, he said he understood that his way of doing things wasn’t working. A structured place such as Hope House was what he needed to connect with the right people and create better opportunities for himself.

In March, Tines became a street vendor in North Lawndale with Neighbor Carts. “It took off like a rocket,” he said. “I didn’t think this was going to be the thing [that made me] financially stable, but it has.” Tines said he is “feeling pretty happy” as a result of his involvement with Neighbor Carts.

“The best part about being financially stable with Neighbor Carts [is that] I am about to get remarried to my ex-wife,” said Tines. He and his fiancée will marry on Saturday.

Tines is one of several Chicagoans benefiting so far from Neighbor Carts.

After gaining city approval for Neighbor Carts, John Piercy, founder and president of Neighbor Capital, got a training grant from the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development to train street vendors. Neighbor Capital operates the Neighbor Carts business. 

“We enlisted StreetWise as a key partner of ours to recruit individuals from workforce agencies that are giving job related skills to unemployed [people].”

Piercy said he wanted to ensure that the Neighbor Carts was “preserving this opportunity as much as possible for individuals [facing] barriers from employment,” a result of either their criminal background and/or drug history.

Neighbor Capital first holds a training term for the vendors - anywhere from 4 weeks to 3 months. “They function as an entrepreneur - we support them,” Piercy said of the trainee vendors. When they are ready to go “we give them the opportunity to operate it independently with a lease agreement. Eventually, vendors can go from leasing the cart to becoming a partial owner of the company and having access to profit sharing.

“[Vendors] set their prices, they order their products, it’s their own microbusiness,” Piercy said. Carts are filled with healthy products such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Piercy wants to include flowers in the future.

Neighbor Carts has always taken a health-focused approach Piercy said. “Food deserts were a big issue in Chicago and so whatever we developed we wanted it to be part of solving real issues.” A food desert is an area that lacks convenient access to healthy fresh foods in underserved markets and communities. These areas usually have higher rates of food-related illnesses such as diabetes and obesity said Piercy. Neighbor Carts as a result has provided this very much-needed access to neighborhoods throughout Chicago.

“I really wanted to see the day to day presence as well as some sort of tangible space in the neighborhoods driven through customer relationships,” Piercy said. This is how Neighbor Carts essentially came about. “We’re structured as a social impact business, that's our framework."

“[John] came up with a fantastic idea and it’s working. The main thing is that doing this kind of work here you actually help out people with their eating habits,” Tines said. “Everything I cook and eat now is baked. And I always have fruit to go along with [my meals], it gives me a lot of energy.

“Stay healthy, live longer. That’s the whole motto,” Tines says.

Neighbor Carts has seven locations throughout the city: North Lawndale, Uptown, Wicker Park, Streeterville, two in Little Village and Bucktown. The first five locations are open every day and will continue to fully operate through the winter.

Piercy says he hopes to have 30 carts running by March, focusing the business on education and “expanding opportunities for new vendors.”