GAGE PARK — Gage Park residents, among the hardest-hit in Illinois by the coronavirus pandemic, are getting relief as a vaccination site is opening in the Southwest Side neighborhood.
Esperanza Health Centers partnered with the Gage Park Latinx Council, the Southwest Organizing Project and the city to open an appointment-only vaccination site at 6057 S. Western Ave. The federally qualified health clinic is targeting Gage Park residents “regardless of risk factors,” said Esperanza CEO Dan Fulwiler.
While the clinic’s workers are trying to prioritize “elderly and essential workers first, all residents of Gage Park are eligible,” Fulwiler said.
The site will be able to vaccinate 200 people a day, but Esperanza hopes to increase that to 500 people per day when supplies are available, Fulwiler said.
Appointments are required and can be made by texting the word GAGE to 773-207-3133 or calling the Gage Park Latinx Council at 708-740-7827. The call center has been overwhelmed, so people should text to schedule an appointment, Fulwiler said.
The health center is responding to texts within 48 hours to help arrange an appointment, he said.
This is the second vaccination site opened by the health center on the Southwest Side. Earlier this month, Esperanza opened a site inside Mansueto High School, 2911 W. 47th St. in Brighton Park, another neighborhood that has been devastated by the pandemic.
The need for vaccinations cannot be overstated, Fulwiler said.
As of Saturday, the 60629 ZIP code, which includes Gage Park, has had 15,788 confirmed cases and 224 residents have died from coronavirus, according to city data. Last week, 93 more cases were recorded and one person died.
The 60632 ZIP Code, which includes portions of Gage Park and Brighton Park, has seen 12,289 confirmed cases and 185 deaths. Last week, the ZIP code had 72 confirmed cases and two deaths.
“These are the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the entire state in terms of COVID-19. We have consistently been in the top five ZIP codes statewide for infection rates. That demonstrates that we have a lot of people who are at high risk,” Fulwiler said.
Brighton Park, Gage Park and other Southwest Side neighborhoods are home to many essential workers, who are unable to work from home. Some workers who contract the virus at work bring it home to multi-generational households, where people cannot isolate from sick relatives, Fulwiler said.
Because of the rates of infection, city officials have allowed for any Gage Park resident to get vaccinated at the Esperanza site regardless of their placement in the city’s official prioritization plan, Fulwiler said.
“We know that in this neighborhood, the risk is just living here,” he said.
The vaccination site is part of the city’s Protect Chicago Plus efforts, which are aimed at getting vaccine resources to 15 community areas devastated by the pandemic.
“Protect Chicago Plus is our chance to change the map and ensure that Gage Park and other communities carrying the heaviest burden have the vaccine and resources they need to get at or above the Citywide vaccination rate,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a news release.
‘First Tangible Piece Of Equity That We Have Seen’
Organizers hope partnerships with trusted neighborhood groups, like the Gage Park Latinx Council, the Southwest Organizing Project and Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, will bring more residents to vaccination sites.
The Southwest Organizing Project helped spearhead and facilitate community-level conversations with city officials to help make vaccine distribution in Gage Park a reality. They also helped mobilize the staff at the site, while conducting in-person outreach and advocate for more resources, said Ricardo Cifuentes, Vice President of external affairs at Esperanza Health Centers.
“SWOP is proud to collaborate with our member institutions, other community partners, and the city of Chicago to bring vaccine directly to our community members who have been so deeply and disproportionately impacted throughout this pandemic,” said Jessica Biggs, an organizer with SWOP and the director of the Southwest System of Care. “SWOP looks forward to continuing to build relationships across sectors, institutions, and with the members of our community to stand for the whole.”
The Gage Park Latinx Council is signing up Gage Park residents for vaccination appointments at its food pantry. Three members from the group are also working to sign up residents and provide vaccine-related information at the site.
Antonio Santos, co-founder and director of the council, called the site “a game-changer” for Gage Park residents.
Santos said the grassroots organization was grateful for the partnership with the health center to reach members in the community and drive down cases in the neighborhood.
“They are an ally to our community and a lot of folks from our community access their health care,” Santos said.
For months, the council’s leaders have been critical of the lack of resources coming to the neighborhood from city agencies. They’ve advocated for more resources, including rent relief, testing sites and an equitable rollout of vaccines.
“This is the first tangible piece of equity that we have seen in terms of COVID response for our community. We have been shouting it for almost a year now that our community needed the resources,” Santos said.
With access to appointments and a site in the neighborhood, Santos said they were excited to have “their voices heard and our feedback recognized.”
Santos said the vaccination site shows community members “their lives are valuable, and they are keeping the city running through their essential work,” Santos said.
For many residents, this provides a glimmer of hope, Santos said.
Santos said they plan to continue to push for equitable distribution of vaccines as more becomes available, but they are excited with the progress.
Through this partnership, “it’s exciting for us to be able to bring that opportunity to folks who have struggled the most and who have been made to feel invisible during this pandemic,” Santos said.
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