Chicago school kids receiving copies of Native Tongue Magazine to help them with basic food education

How We Can Help Kids in Underserved Communities Overcome ‘Food Deserts,’ Lack of Essential Nutrition

For Many, ‘Healthy Diet’ Isn’t a Choice

During this month where we give thanks for all the richness in our lives, I’d like to tell you about a non-profit that is working to change the nutrition, health and lives of children in our underserved communities.

Service Manager Sherman Riddick | Auto Lab Libertyville IL

Sherman Riddick, Service Manager

In many underresourced towns and neighborhoods, there are “food deserts.” This means there are no major grocery store chains, and many families simply buy their food at convenience stores or small markets, which leads to problems with basic nutrition and health. Inspired to change that, my close friend Archie Reyes started Native Tongue magazine, a food magazine with a cause.

In each issue, the magazine includes articles and recipes that show kids and their families how to make delicious, nutritious meals from the foods that are available in their neighborhood stores.

“Many of us think of a ‘healthy diet’ as a choice,” Archie says. “‘I feel like being healthy today’ or ‘maybe not today.’ But in these neighborhoods, that’s not the case. For a lot of these kids, going to school also means they’re going to eat. That’s the only meal they’re going to have that day. If there’s no school, they don’t get to eat. That’s terrible. When you live in these neighborhoods, learning how to make your own meals from what’s available around you, it’s so important. It’s a lifeline in a lot of ways.

“We won’t have a lobster recipe [because that’s not likely to be available in their neighborhood stores]. But they can definitely find beef and even soy sauce. We teach them how to prepare that in a way that’s easy, delicious and maybe even a dish that’s outside their culture.”

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Why This Matters

This cause is important because it has the potential to make real changes in the health and lives of children and families all over. This issue is not limited to the poor neighborhoods in Chicago. I have friends and customers who are educators, and they tell me about their students falling asleep in class and not being able to pay attention because they’re hungry and malnourished. One friend even told me they see some of their students eating nothing more than sugary foods like candy bars and cinnamon buns, which just promote sugar highs and the inevitable crashes that follow.

Right now, Native Tongue is published quarterly. Every issue is also available online for free, and fund raising enables Archie to print physical copies and distribute the magazine to students in area schools, such as third through fifth graders at the charter school KIPP on the west side of Chicago. “Their reaction is always hooping and hollering,” Archie says. “They’re just so excited at that age. Everyone is just cheering.”

Native Tongue was able to significantly increase its reach this spring when they worked with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which put a flier for the publication in every box of food that was distributed.

Using Music to Reach the Kids

Native Tongue Magazine

Native Tongue magazine teaches kids and parents how to make healthy, delicious meals using foods that are available in neighborhoods where there is a lack of adequate grocery stores.

Although the magazine has a serious purpose, the Native Tongue team has a lot of fun with what they do. Everyone on the team is a fan of hip hop, so they use that as an inspiration for the pages of the magazine. This helps them reach the children, too, and not just the parents.

In each issue, there’s also a feature article on a different culture around the globe. “If someone is going to sit down and look at this magazine, we want to introduce another culture through the food,” Archie explains. “In one issue, we had a recipe for Portuguese eggs. Right next to it, we had an article about Portugal. That’s a way to start to bring these other worlds into the lexicon of these kids. Typically, they aren’t going to care about Portugal. But if they see this picture of Portuguese eggs and they look delicious, then they may say, ‘Tell me more.’ It starts with food and it’s focused on that, but we can attach all these other pieces – music, food, features on cultural holidays. We can do so much more at the same time.”

My connection to Archie started in high school and has continued on to this day with him serving as best man in my wedding last year. I’ve personally helped with fundraising events for Native Tongue and have donated to the cause. Not to mention, I’ve used the magazine (available for free online) to make some truly creative and delicious dishes for my family to enjoy.

What the Future Holds for Native Tongue

In the next few years, Archie wants to expand the reach of the magazine, not just to other communities in the Chicago area, but across the country. Ultimately, he wants Native Tongue to play a role in ending the problem.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could actually end the problem in Chicago,” Archie says. “The reason I believe that is: Through my cooking experience and not being rich, I’ve seen how you can turn $5 of groceries into a meal for 15 people. The restaurants don’t tell you that, but it’s really possible. You could actually end the food problem when people understand how to turn a vegetable into a meal. When I say that, I literally mean one vegetable.”

We invite you to help make a change in the lives of children in our communities. DONATE NOW

Happy Thanksgiving and Thank You for Giving,

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A Bit About Archie Reyes, Editor-in-Chief of Native Tongue Magazine

Archie has been working on non-profit projects for nearly 10 years. He started working with individual-proprietor sandal companies in the Philippines to donate sandals to rural villages. This helps to combat disease, allows the kids to go to school and boosts their confidence. After that, he decided he wanted to do something food related. He wrote an e-cookbook, sold it online and donated the proceeds to the Red Cross in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

Then after moving to Humboldt Park, he worked with the Alderman, several restaurants and residents to do a neighborhood cleanup. He recruited a group of volunteers, which went around the neighborhood and cleaned 20 city blocks in a single morning. The restaurants provided the food. This experience helped him realize he wanted to work more directly with Chicago neighborhoods. His wife was a teacher in Chicago for 5 years and told him about all of the challenges the kids face in Chicago’s west and south side neighborhoods. That’s when Archie decided to take his experience and launch Native Tongue.


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