AVONDALE — Two musicians and friends have teamed up to deliver pizza and donated supplies to homeless encampments across the Northwest Side, their effort to help people stay safe and warm in the brutal cold.
Adam Gogola and Jeff Schaller, with local bands Blind Adam & the Federal League and Jeff Schaller & the Long Way Home, have raised $20,000 and counting through their grassroots organization People’s Pizza Party over the past eight months.
Each week, the pair drops off pizza and other supplies, like blankets, to residents of about seven Northwest Side encampments. They have no plans to slow down anytime soon, especially with the recent deep cold spell.
“It never feels like we’re doing enough,” Gogola said. “I feel good about it, and I’m really proud of everyone who wants to keep supporting this … . As good as it feels, it’s hard to ever feel like the work has been done.”
Gogola, 35, and Schaller, 31, launched People’s Pizza Party in July. They were looking for ways to help people in need during the coronavirus pandemic and after the civil unrest when Brave Space Alliance put out a call for supplies.
“I made a post about it on our band’s page. We have this tour van we can’t use right now and Brave Space needs some help,” Gogola said. “Jeff was one of the first people who contacted me to get that going.”
As they packed supplies for the organization, they learned someone had set fire to three homeless encampments in Avondale and they quickly delivered pizza and cash to people whose belongings were destroyed in the blaze. They got help from their friends, who run Dante’s Pizzeria.
From there, the two started raising money to keep the work going. What followed was an outpouring of support from friends and other people.
“We know a lot of people who are good friends of ours and acquaintances who are good people who want to do good things and don’t know where to start,” Schaller said. “This kind of organically started and turned into a thing where we’re able to do the work as long as people are willing to donate and help out.”
Schaller and Gogola were heavily influenced by their years of playing and going to shows in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. Punk music has long been used to push for social and societal change. They said the name People’s Pizza Party is a nod to their socialist politics.
“Growing up going to see these shows, going to see bands like Anti-Flag, Against Me!, Rise Against … seeing Food Not Bombs tables, anti-fascist tables, anti-war [tables] — That’s how I got into doing direct political action and making sure that through music, you can kind of push for a better world,” Gogola said.
Gogola’s band, which is signed to Anti-Flag’s record label, was just starting to take off before coronavirus gripped the city, Gogola said. And Schaller, longing to get back on stage, spent the first hundred days of the pandemic playing cover songs and posting the videos online.
Because of the pandemic, Gogola’s and Schaller’s music careers are on hold. But they have full-time jobs to keep them afloat, Schaller as a music teacher at a local elementary school and Gogola in logistics.
With music venues shut down and no concrete answer as to when they’ll reopen, Gogola and Schaller are pouring their energy into People’s Pizza Party, raising money, delivering food and bonding with people who are experiencing homelessness in the process.
The latter is especially important to the pair, who said they’ve formed tight-knit bonds with many people over the past eight months, which has enabled them to help on a deeper and more effective level.
“During a time where we’re doing as little socializing as possible, there’s a lot of folks who are in need of stuff, but also in need of an ear,” Schaller said. “They’re just lonely, living under a bridge by themselves or with one other person. Things are rough.”
Gogola added, “We have a friend and we’re at the point now where we have to make them our last stop because we know we’ll hang out for an hour.
“This is a benefit to us just as much as it is to anyone else,” he said. “We get to make new friends, establish these friendships and have conversations with folks once a week. If it wasn’t for this, I’d be sitting at home not seeing anybody.”
Gogola and Schaller don’t plan to grow the operation much larger than it is today. They said as long as they keep receiving donations, they’ll continue to deliver hot meals, blankets and other supplies to their unhoused neighbors. But they do hope to partner with other mutual aid groups in the area to broaden their impact.
“We’ve tried to use what little reach we have to spread the word about what kinds of things can be done so we never have to live another year like this,” Gogola said.
To get involved with People’s Pizza Party, or to donate, go here.
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