Dion’s Chicago Dream founder and “Chief Dreamer” Dion Dawson was proudly on hand when The Dream Vault, a locker-based system pioneered by his nonprofit, went live at a South Side Save A Lot.
OPINION: AHEAD OF WHAT'S NEXT
A new Save A Lot store on Chicago’s South Side has become the site of an innovative solution to food insecurity: To mark its third anniversary, nonprofit organization Dion’s Chicago Dream has launched The Dream Vault, a locker-based system to dispense fresh produce to those in need.
The network-enabled bank of lockers is designed to provide 200 households living within a 1-mile radius of the store with fresh fruits and vegetables, at no cost to them. Every week, a recipient can enter a code and pick up a box of produce.
Asked how the solution came about, Dion Dawson, founder and “chief dreamer” of Dion’s Chicago Dream, explains: “The Dream Vault was inspired by the smart locker system and is a natural progression of what we’ve already been doing — providing fresh, quality produce to food-insecure households in the Chicagoland area. I wanted to scale up by providing an option that not only would help residents, but would attract people to a local business, thereby incentivizing the business’ participation in fighting food insecurity. We worked with Luxer One to build the locker and with Save A Lot on the location. There’s never been a tool to fight food insecurity with quality options in a retail environment, so this is transformative in the nonprofit space, and we hope it will provide a model for other organizations to scale up the services they are able to provide.”
As for the choice of grocery store, “Save A Lot was my original target because I wanted this first Dream Vault to be located in Englewood,” notes Dawson, referencing his home neighborhood. “I went to them with the idea, and they jumped on it.”
A recipient can enter a code and pick up a box of produce via The Dream Vault.
More to Come
Since the program’s debut this past August, it’s been a win-win for all involved. “Save A Lot is very pleased with The Dream Vault,” says Dawson. “It’s low maintenance and brings in new shoppers. The recipients are very happy with the ease of use and are impressed with the ingenuity of the design.”
The plan is to launch at least four more Dream Vaults throughout Chicago with other partners by the end of the year. “We’re looking at the next launch to begin around Thanksgiving,” affirms Dawson, adding: “We intend to expand to larger retail chains so that this tool is available across the city, and eventually in every corner of the country. Access to fresh, quality food is a human right, and for us, fighting food insecurity doesn’t stop in Chicago. This is a nationwide crisis, a worldwide crisis. We want to provide as many people as possible with access to healthy food when they need it.”
That may seem an ambitious goal, but over the past three years of its existence, Dion’s Chicago Dream has already provided more than 600,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to households in need throughout the Chicagoland area through its Dream Fridge and Dream Deliveries programs. For now, however, at least one of the nonprofit’s dreams has become a reality as it pioneers the use of frictionless grocery technology to aid some of the most vulnerable people in our society.