HYDE PARK — With the ongoing pandemic and grocery stores and pharmacies closed due to looting, many people with disabilities are wondering where they’ll get food and medicine for the foreseeable future.
To meet this need in Hyde Park and Woodlawn, two University of Chicago students have organized a disability care network — a volunteer-led delivery service that brings items directly to those who need them.
The network links volunteers with those in need. It’s a free service with guidelines on limiting the spread of coronavirus; for example, organizers ask volunteers to disinfect every item and provide no-contact deliveries.
Ailsa Lipscombe is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Music and Britt Dorton is a fourth-year student in the Department of Comparative Human Development.
The organizers understand the need for precautions — both have disabilities and are immunocompromised, putting them at a much higher risk of contracting coronavirus and developing serious complications.
“We’re going above and beyond to make sure there’s no chance of spreading COVID to our friends who are immunocompromised,” Dorton said.
The duo — active around disability justice issues — came up with the idea while discussing the impact grocery store closures would have on people with disabilities.
“Networks of care and care pods are a common theme in disability justice,” Dorton said. “Ailsa came up with the idea for a virtual network of care, so neighbors in Hyde Park who might not have people to depend on can still be supported.”
Able-bodied people might be excited as coronavirus restrictions are eased, but many people with disabilities don’t have that luxury, Lipscombe said. Initiatives like the care network make sure they aren’t forgotten as Chicago re-opens.
In the network’s first day, 24 people signed up to volunteer, while nobody requested assistance.
That may be due to low demand right now — many grocery stores only shut down due to looting in the last few days — but it also may reflect the discomfort some people with disabilities have in requesting help, Lipscombe said.
“The number of people who have already stepped up [to volunteer] shows that it is not a burden to ask,” Lipscombe said. “This is a judgment-free zone; if people need help, they should feel comfortable reaching out and asking for it.”
The plan is for the network to be a trusted, no-strings-attached resource that continues once the pandemic and unrest is over, the organizers said.
“Our end goal is to provide these radical, community-based alternatives of care to folks with disabilities in Hyde Park,” Dorton said. “It’s a wonderful way to keep our community connected and make sure folks don’t have to spend outrageous amounts paying to get these delivery services.
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