General Interest

Group feeds Chicago’s neighborhoods one fridge at a time

By Marisa Sloan
Medill Reports

Hidden in the alley behind a used bookstore in Humboldt Park is a fully stocked refrigerator. Giant fruit and vegetables are painted on its doors alongside the phrase “free food” and its Spanish translation, “comida gratis,” in red and pink.

A piece of cardboard reading “I AM NOT TRASH!” sags against its side.

The refrigerator, one of seven throughout Chicago’s South and West Sides, is part of a grassroots effort called The Love Fridge that combats food insecurity and food waste in the city. Founded less than two months ago by music producer Ramon Norwood, better known as Radius, the collective encourages community members to take what food they need and leave what they can.

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‘The Invisible Cut’: A look into racism in fencing

By Leah Vann & Emine Yücel
Medill Reports

This summer, Boris Vaksman, a prominent fencing coach for St. John’s University and New York’s Fencers Club, was fired after he was recorded making racist remarks on a Zoom call.

The comments, which followed the killing of George Floyd and in the wake of a nationally amplified conversation on race, fueled Black fencers to speak out about the racism they have been experiencing for decades in the predominantly white sport.

In “The Invisible Cut,” reporters Emine Yücel and Leah Vann talked to Black fencers from across the country about the racism that plagues their community and the steps they have been taking to create a more inclusive atmosphere in the sport.

Leah Vann covers sports at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @LVann_Sports. Emine Yücel covers social justice at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @emineirmakyucel.

Photo at top: Team USA Olympic foil fencer Nzingha Prescod strikes a stance. After being verbally attacked on a Zoom call back in April, she now leads a diversity task force address racism in USA Fencing. (Emma Trim/Courtesy)

California students receiving free, reduced-price meals face accessibility challenges during pandemic

By Hannah Schoenbaum
Medill Reports 

Jesus Garcia, 17, depended on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s free and reduced-price meals program during his time at Back Bay High School in Costa Mesa, California. When the school closed in the spring of his senior year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Garcia struggled to find stable internet connection for his online classes and had trouble balancing his busy home life with the added responsibility of picking up meals.

Garcia said he was unaware that the district was providing free breakfasts and lunches during remote learning, until he received a call from his school informing him of a drive-thru meal service. The incoming Orange Coast College culinary arts student said he picked up meals at Costa Mesa High School for about two weeks but grew frustrated when he could no longer find a ride.

“My stepfather and stepbrother wouldn’t get off work until the afternoon, and they were the only ones with cars,” Garcia said. “By the time they finished and could give me a ride, the schools had already packed up everything, and I couldn’t get food.”

As NMUSD prepares for an entirely virtual start to the upcoming school year, students who rely on the free and reduced-price meals program, like Garcia did, are navigating a less accessible system to obtain the food they have been promised.

Nutrition Services Assistant Sarah Garcia de Calderon and Nutrition Supervisor Celeste Alion place four pre-packaged meals on a cart outside Costa Mesa High School for their first drive-thru meals recipient of the day on Aug. 7, 2020. The summer meals service is contact-free and will continue through Aug. 14 at seven locations around Costa Mesa, California. (Hannah Schoenbaum/MEDILL)

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Sí, Yo Soy Afro: What it’s like to be Black in Argentina

By Sidnee King & Beth Stewart
Medill Reports

BUENOS AIRES — The myth that there are no Black people in Argentina is pervasive. Walking the streets of the nation’s cosmopolitan capital, Buenos Aires, you’ll likely find European influenced food, style, and architecture, all of it among mostly white faces.  Today, the city’s population is less than two percent black. But a once substantial community of African descendants has made an indelible imprint on even the most celebrated and exported aspects of Argentine culture.

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No more undercover food critics

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

It’s 2006 and Jeff Ruby, food critic for Chicago magazine, is being interviewed by the History Channel. In attempts to keep an undercover profile, like most food critics do, Ruby shaves his beard for the first time in 10 years and dyes his natural red hair jet black. To make himself even more unrecognizable, he decides to wear a baseball cap and glasses. Over a decade later, Ruby says the History Channel still airs his segment periodically, usually late at night. Despite his elaborate efforts, he almost always gets a text from a friend suspecting it’s him.

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The subliminal racism of instagram food videos

By Alison Saldanha
Medill Reports

Scrolling through Instagram, it’s not uncommon to slip into a rabbit hole of food videos. In under a minute, slender hands work through a short list of ingredients: chopping onions, breaking eggs, grating cheese to finally present an appetizing meal you make a mental note to try out later. If unmuted, uptempo electronic music entraps your aural senses as the platform’s algorithm registers your preference and dispatches another recipe to your watch stream.

These seemingly addictive videos have grown in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic as stay-at-home orders led to global home-cooking trends like whipped dalgona coffee, banana bread and sourdough. But a closer look at the skin tone of the hands preparing these meals reveals an enduring racism in the food media industry that many businesses are now trying to reverse. Continue reading

Women’s professional sports leagues utilize social media to continue pre-pandemic growth

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stands against the blue backdrop of a team-themed blanket, staring into a camera to address nearly 1,000 fans sitting in front of their screens on the other end of a Zoom call on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

It’s the annual unveiling of the new team’s jerseys, called a, “Kit Launch,” and it was supposed to be the largest ever jersey unveiling event, where 250 fans would gather at Pinstripes on Chicago’s riverfront raising their signature cocktails to toast what should’ve been the start of the most exciting season of the National Women’s Soccer League yet. While the in-person event would’ve been more fun, the online version of it attracted more fans from across the country.

The room for growth in women’s sports exceeds men’s. Before the pandemic’s impact, Deloitte projected that the rise of women’s sports in 2020 would dominate the sports industry and that “sponsors should consider getting involved now to capitalize on the new opportunities and avenues for engagement that this growth area may create.”

On March 12, that dream of a record-breaking season came to a halt when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, making the NBA the first domino to fall in what was a chain of professional sports postponements and cancellations. The pandemic’s impact was especially disheartening for women’s professional sports, where teams were anxious to continue their pre-pandemic growth.

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Life as a COVID-19 nurse

By Michael Thomas
Medill Reports

Life as a nurse during COVID-19 has been challenging, and for nurse practitioner Ampora Gonzales, it’s become a new way of life.
“This has become my new normal, not seeing or spending time with my family,” Gonzales said.

Photo at top: Nurse practitioner Ampora Gonzales suited up to take care of COVID-19 patients. (Michael Thomas/MEDILL)

Managing your money during a pandemic

By Michael Thomas
Medill Reports

Managing your money during a pandemic can be difficult, and many were not prepared for this economic crisis. Financial advisor Nicole Lujan of Southern California says the time to start planning your financial future is now. “Preparing for your financial success is always smart and is something you should start now,” she said.

Photo at top: A stack of credit cards. (Michael Thomas/MEDILL)