With a recent $86,000 loan to pay for new shelving and equipment at the Neighbor’s Market Place in East St. Louis, the initial work of the Illinois Fresh Food Fund is complete. First launched in 2012 by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and managed by IFF, the Fund provided nearly $10 million in low-cost loans, direct development assistance, and grants to support the opening and expansion of six full-service grocery stores in Illinois “food deserts.”
In addition to providing a reliable source of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats in their neighborhoods, these stores also engaged with local community partners on how to promote better health and nutrition, such as sponsoring health cooking classes and sharing nutritious recipes, providing coupons for healthy foods, and connecting with community health centers. Overall, Fund-supported grocery stores leveraged $34 million in public/private investment, served as anchors for additional community and economic development, and created over 200 new jobs.
Importantly, the Fund’s projects benefitted underserved areas in nearly every corner of the state. They included:
- $3.6 million for a Mariano’s Fresh Market in Bronzeville and a Save-A-Lot in Roseland, both on Chicago’s south side;
- $3.5 million for a Save-A-Lot in Waukegan, in the north suburbs of Chicago;
- $2.7 million for a Save-A-Lot in Rockford in northern Illinois; and
- $1.8 million for a Save-A-Lot and the above-mentioned Neighbor’s Market Place in East St. Louis, both in the Metro East region of southern Illinois.
“We focused on critical financing gaps and communities where – but for the Illinois Fresh Food Fund – most store developers and operators were unable to locate on their own,” said Dana Lieberman, IFF’s Senior Vice President for Capital Solutions. “In Rockford, local leaders encouraged us to target the city’s West End, which had been a ‘food desert’ for over 30 years – putting a grocery store at the very top of their development needs. Serving the neighborhoods most in need was important to us.”
Lieberman also commended DCEO for its approach to the Fund’s implementation. “This is incredibly challenging work, and we would not have been able to do these projects without DCEO’s steadfast support,” Lieberman said. “When financing alone was not enough to make a new store happen, they allowed us to instead develop those stores directly. I don’t think other states have provided that type of flexibility.”
Although the mix of loans, development assistance, and grants that were available under the Fund have now been fully committed, IFF continues to make loans to full-service grocery stores in food deserts through our standard loans funded through the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative and other sources, as well as to finance a range of other nonprofit projects that increase access to fresh and healthy food.