Student puts learning into action, bringing fresh fruit to food desert

Videography by S K Vemmer

“The fact that it sells out every day proves that people here want fruit,” said second-year medical student Lauren Hughes, standing beside the orange-topped fruit cart that debuted on the corner of Wood and Taylor streets in August.

Hughes partnered with two nonprofit agencies and UIC staff to bring the cart to UIC after she learned that UI Hospital and its patients are located in one of the city’s largest food deserts  — regions where stores selling fresh produce are scarce.

Hughes worked with Patricia Finn, head of the department of medicine, and Stephen Brown, associate director of preventive emergency medicine, to bring the cart to UIC.

“The conversation has changed from malnutrition, which was a problem 30 years ago, to coping with the abundance of empty calories from junk food,” Brown said.

The fruit cart not only fills a void in the local food desert, but provides an alternative to readily available and cheap chips, candy and soda, he added.

Brown helped Hughes contact Neighbor Capital, an organization that partners with Streetwise to put recently homeless or incarcerated people back to work.

The fruit cart, staffed by graduates of the Streetwise Job Transitions Program, provides income for two to three vendors.

Cart vendor Kevin L. James says he has many regular, daily customers, some from the Outpatient Care Center across the street.

“Patients who have to fast for certain medical tests come out of the clinic and come straight for the fruit cart,” he said.

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