Lorraine Forte vividly remembers the day she moved into her rehabbed condo in the struggling Woodlawn community about five years ago. Forte and her boyfriend of 10 years, Grant Banks, live on the east side of Woodlawn.
This side is vastly different from its west side counterpart. There are blocks filled with new businesses and newly rehabbed condo homes.
“We were the second people in the building,” Forte said.
“There was only one other person because it was a rehabbed building that had been turned into a condo.”
People in the area were friendly, she said.
“The neighborhood seemed like it was starting to make a turnaround,” Forte said.
“It’s slow because of the housing crisis. There are a lot of foreclosures in Woodlawn.”
Forte and Banks decided to build on that friendliness, which is not always easy to find in high-crime areas like Woodlawn, Forte said.
They decided to use food as a conversation starter and created a fish fry at their local church. Banks and Forte have been members of First Presbyterian Church, located at 6400 S. Kimbark Ave., for four years.
“We started with the fish fry to make money for the church, and also to try and build community in Woodlawn,” she said.
“We’ve only done it three times, so it’s not like it’s a neighborhood institution at this point. We’re hoping that it will become one.”
The third fish fry was successful, Forte said.
“We raised some money and we had a little bigger turnout. People, not just from the church, but also from Woodlawn as a whole came out. We’re hoping that it continues to grow.”
Reverend Reggie Weaver, pastor at First Presbyterian Church for a year and a half, didn’t plan on the fish fry initially aiding in community improvement.
“ We had presented the projected budget for the upcoming year, and were thinking of some ways to possibly fill some gaps in the budget,” he said.
“So Grant came up with the idea of having a monthly fish fry. We certainly didn’t think it would cover everything, but it would raise some funds.”