Cooking Classes, made possible by the Walmart Foundation

Wesley has lived at Mercy Housing Lakefront’s (MHL) South Loop Apartments for the past 19 years. He was born on Chicago’s Southside, but grew up on the Northside. He moved to the South Loop Apartments after his rent increased and he could not afford the rent prices. “I knew I couldn’t afford the rent anymore, living on Social Security.” While looking for an alternative, he attended an affordable housing seminar at Howard Brown Health Center. A Howard Brown case manager referred him to check out Mercy Housing Lakefront for affordable housing. He applied for an apartment and received a call back about a month after he submitted the application. In fact, the phone interview happened before the construction of the South Loop Apartments was completed. “The walls were still being painted when I first came here [to the building] in person.”

Since he moved to the South Loop Apartments, Wesley has been very active as an organizer and participant in tenant and MHL events. He wrote several newsletters for the property from 2000-2012 to inform residents of different events, tenant meetings, and resident news to foster a sense of community. Wesley’s journalism has allowed him to meet several politicians and well-known people in Chicago, including Mayor Daley.

“I have a beautiful portfolio of photos from all my years here in the Case Management office here.”

In February 2019, Wesley’s case manager referred him to attend the Cooking Up Change Chicago (CUCC) cooking classes hosted by Near North Health Services Corporation. The classes took place at the South Loop Apartments in the community room kitchen. This way residents could participate without having to travel outside of their apartment building. Wesley noticed that the consistent resident turnout motivated him to keep coming. The average turnout for his groups at the South Loop was four residents, although it ranged from four to six over the span of the four-week course. Also, he was interested in developing his nutrition choices to manage his diabetes more effectively.

Moreover, Wesley learned that he should try to eat “vegetables with every meal” to be healthier through the program. “I found out [in class] that I like fennel and snap peas…and asparagus.” Wesley has made stir fry his primary cooking method and does not deep fry his food. He aims to “cut down on sugars” to help manage his high blood pressure and diabetes. “The meals that we made were delicious. We made a taco salad, chili, vegetable soup.” Wesley already knew how to stir fry and how to chop food, since his nephew gave him his chef kitchen kit. The CUCC cooking classes helped him develop those healthy cooking skills even further.

Also, Wesley collected the recipes that Near North shared with all the course participants, which he keeps in his kitchen. He learned how to save money and how to read nutrition labels carefully while grocery shopping. The course instructor, Claire, led him and other residents on an hour grocery store ‘tour’ through the local supermarket, Jewel-Osco. She taught them how to properly read the nutritional values, and to look at sugar levels in sodas and other drinks, and they learned about calories and cholesterol contents in the foods as well.

Additionally, Wesley learned about the financial aspect of the program to be equally as enlightening and helpful. For example, he discovered how to save money at the grocery store and to look for nutritional foods to stay healthy. Overall, Wesley knows that the cooking courses provide Mercy Housing residents with an ideal opportunity to foster healthy eating. “I really like that [the program] comes down to really helping residents.”