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I've known Clarence and Wendy Weaver since 2015, soon after they opened C & W Market and Ice Cream Parlor on the corner of Church and Dodge. I honestly don't remember how we met, but I'll bet my bottom dollar it was an occasion during which they were doing something for Evanston residents.
Because that's what they do. In addition to serving the community through their store--high school kids, neighbors, and others from all over Evanston--they've always been at the ready to offer free ice-cream cones and lend their support in numerous ways to causes, and protests, and voter registration drives.
Driven by faith and caring, the Weavers are committed to community.
For 45 straight Covid-19 Saturday mornings, starting last April and including this morning, Clarence and Wendy, with a cadre of volunteers, have packed and handed out or delivered 220 bags of groceries each week, including meats, fresh produce, and non-perishables, to Evanston families and seniors in need--sadly having to turn many others away.
Even the tragic death of CJ, their beloved 32-year-old son who drowned during a boat outing with friends on Lake Michigan last September 3, did not derail the Weavers' work, and CJ's seven-year-old son Malachi (he turns eight on Monday!), on whom the Weavers dote, can often be seen helping at his grandparents' store. In fact, the only week the Weavers have missed during the pandemic is when the recent snowstorm stalled us all.
"I know my son enjoyed life and work. He helped us a lot and he would have wanted us to keep doing it," Clarence told me when we caught up yesterday.
For several months, the Weavers, along with many other food-based businesses, received some funding from the Evanston Community Foundation to help put food on the table of those most in need and mounted a GoFundMe to close the gap.
But ECF funding is no longer available, and in order to continue serving families--and reaching additional families--the Weavers recently increased their GoFundMe to support the next few months. They hope to then extend their funding and their grocery giveaways through December 2021.
C&W is the Weaver's ministry. Whether they're behind the counter on a usual day or out on the sidewalk Saturdays providing groceries to people who would otherwise struggle to get food, their work is their mission.
"We're not just trying to sell a product, we're also trying to impact lives," says Clarence, who is a Minister at Second Baptist Evanston. "The store gives us a platform to take everything we believe in our Christian walk that we can help others. We don't have to help people that believe in the same thing we do, we have to help everyone."
One winter night in 2014, during a time when Clarence and Wendy had been discussing ways they could contribute more to the community, the Weavers spotted a for-rent sign on the store's door on their way home from visiting family in Chicago. The store had a shady past, Clarence told me; the previous owner was known to buy and resell goods often stolen from Evanston Township High School across the street.
"It was feeding into problems in the community," Clarence said, "and after the store was raided and the owner was told he couldn't continue doing business, it was fair game for anybody to come in, make an agreement with the landlord, and set up shop."
The catch though, was that the space needed to remain a convenience store because, Clarence explained, it already had a bay cooler.
So the Weavers, who had no convenience-store savvy but recognized the need for a neighborhood grocery store in an area that is essentially a food desert (Church and Dodge borders the 2nd and 5th wards), decided to jump in.
Clarence talks to me last May, soon after C&W began providing free groceries to Evanston families.
"It wasn't part of our background," Clarence says, "but we were at a point where we could talk about giving back in the community, and that's what made us buy the store."
In addition, he says, the couple felt that there needed to be a stronger positive presence in the Black community.
"From a Black perspective, I think it's always good when Black families and Black youth see Black business owners," he says. "I think it shows them that they can do it as well. We're not just trying to sell a product, we're also trying to impact lives."
At the community vigil for CJ last September 4 that drew a huge crowd of masked mourners to the parking lot across from C&W, Clarence, amazingly, had the strength to speak. He talked about his son's special qualities, the importance of family, the strength of the Black community. And, he said to everyone gathered, "I think the best way to handle any situation is love."
Let's show some love to the Weavers so they can continue to provide fresh groceries to Evanstonians who need them. Please donate now: GoFundMe Quickpay: with Zelle or Cashapp Giftcards: available for purchase at the store.