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100 Ways You Helped: Here’s How Chicagoans Lifted Their Neighbors Through COVID-19 Pandemic

One year ago, life as we knew it was upended by a pandemic and other crises. When the systems we were used to relying on failed, Chicagoans stepped up to save each other.

Here are 100 ways Chicagoans helped each other through the pandemic and other crises over the last year.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago; Provided
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In March 2020, a stay at home order was enacted in Illinois — the first of our lifetime — amid the spread of coronavirus, a virus we were struggling to understand.

In the year since, Chicago’s neighborhoods have faced unprecedented challenges. Folks got sick. Loved ones died. People lost jobs. Schools shuttered. Beloved mom-and-pop shops closed their doors — some for good.

Parents worked double duty. Routines were interrupted. We stayed distant from the ones we care about most. Grocery store shelves were emptied, and fear and paranoia set in. Crisis took hold.

By many accounts, government struggled to provide adequate solutions. The systems we were used to relying on failed.

We lost so much. Yet in the face of insurmountable trouble, we came together to save each other.

A year after the shutdown, we celebrate the neighbors and everyday heroes who made our lives a little more bearable.

This is Chicago. And these are 100 ways we helped.

We Fed Our Neighbors

1. In 18 neighborhoods across the South and West Sides, neighbors and activists like Ashley Godfrey banded together to bring fully stocked refrigerators — dubbed Love Fridges — to areas struggling with food insecurity.

Credit: Provided
Ramon “Radius” Norwood stands next to the Bridgeport refrigerator at Mars Brewing, left, and the Little Village refrigerator at 2751 W. 21st St.

2. In Washington Park and at sites across the city, activist Nita Tennyson and others launched the Love Train to provide free baby supplies and food to those in need.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Love Train volunteers hand out baby supplies and food after the GoodKids MadCity Love March to Combat Gun Violence in Washington Park on July 11, 2020.

3. In Archer Heights, the Southwest Collective launched Food’s Here to feed neighbors, employ laid-off restaurant workers and reduce food waste. They use extra food from meal subscription services and a closed restaurant to feed 250 people hit hard by the pandemic each week.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
María Dolores Lopez packs up food at Archer Heights cafe De Colores, 3838 W. 49th St., as employees packaged over 400 to-go meals March 2, 2021. The meals were distributed to Southwest Side families in need as part of a new pilot program organized by community organization Southwest Collective.

4. In West Garfield Park in the fall, Jermaine Jordan opened Healthy Hot Free Meals, a soul food restaurant that provides free food for people in need and those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Neighbors from across the city donated to keep the effort going.

Credit: PROVIDED
Jermaine Jordan preparing and giving out meals at Healthy Hot Free Meals.

5. In Hyde Park, students organized UChicago Mutual Aid after they were forced to move off campus while being hit with lighter financial aid checks.

Credit: UChicago Mutual Aid
UChicago Mutual Aid volunteers

6. On the South and West sides, churches and groups like Black Girls Break Bread organized one-stop shops for supplies like food, masks, coronavirus testing and diapers.

7. In Woodlawn, organizers with The Experimental Station, Invisible Institute, Build Coffee, South Side Weekly and Star Farm Chicago launched Market Box program, which fed South Side families and supported small Midwestern farms through the summer. As of September, they’d made nearly 4,000 fresh food deliveries to South Side families.

Credit: Davon Clark
Star Farm staff and volunteers packed 100 bags with produce, bread and eggs Sept. 17.

8. In Bridgeport, owner Ed Marzewski and chef Won Kim transformed Kimski into a Community Canteen, offering free or pay-what-you-can meals to go. They gave out as many as 2,000 meals each week.

Credit: Facebook/Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar
The “Community Canteen” at Maria’s allows neighbors to get a free meal or pay what you can, which will help fund more meals.

9. In Washington Park, the People’s Grab-N-Go popped up every Monday at Burke Elementary School in response to the brief CPS food shutdown. The school was one of CPS’ meal distribution sites. In the first two giveaways alone, organizers Matt Muse, Jihad Kheperu, Dominique James, Trina Reynolds-Tyler and others fed 800 families.

Credit: Provided
People’s Grab-And-Go

10. In Back of the Yards, Increase the Peace and other groups launched a free Black and Brown Unity Food Pantry, acting as a bridge in the wake of isolated incidents of violence dividing the two communities.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Berto Aguayo, director and co-founder of Increase the Peace, hosts a Black and Brown Food Pantry in Back of the Yards Wednesday afternoon.

11. In Logan Square, Diana Dávila, chef and owner of Mi Tocaya Antojería, fed hundreds of homestyle Mexican meals to families in need while keeping her workers employed.

Credit: Provided
(Left) Janice Espino, an employee at Mi Tocaya Antojería, stands with chef and owner Diana Dávila at one of their meal giveaways in May (right), which drewlong lines down the block.

12. In North Lawndale, Rev. Reshorna Fitzpatrick and volunteers launched Soup for the Soul at Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, providing free soup to 200 West Siders in need every Monday.

Credit: Provided
Soup for the Soul gives away free meals at the Stone Temple church in North Lawndale.

13. The pandemic inspired South Side chef Michael Airhart to take his Taste for the Homeless effort on the road, using his van to traverse the city to give free meals and clothes to people experiencing homelessness. Airhart estimates he feeds about 1,200 people per day.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Chef Michael Airhart has been serving food for those experiencing homelessness most days at the corner of 14th Place and Canal Street. On March 17, 2021, he cooked up dozens of burgers and polishes for those in need of a bite.

14. Before the pandemic, New Life Centers’ Pan de Vida food pantry in Little Village was helping about 100 families per week. But when COVID-19 hit, “need spiked like crazy,” Executive Director Matt DeMateo said. In response, they partnered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and scaled up distribution at seven sites across the South and West sides, feeding more than 700,000 people in six months.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Staff and volunteers lend a hand as New Life Centers of Chicagoland hosts a holiday food distribution event with the Greater Chicago Food Depository in the Little Village neighborhood on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

15. In Hyde Park, the Brave Space Alliance, Chicago’s only Black- and transgender-led LGBTQ center, launched a crisis pantry for people in need.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Zahara Basset, director of development and external relations at the Brave Space Alliance, leads protesters during a Black Trans Lives Matter protest.

16. In Austin, Alt_ co-founder Jon Veal and others transformed an abandoned building into a free grocery store where residents can get food. The market is stocked with food donated by neighbors and nonprofit, and it inspired other markets across the city.

Credit: Provided
Alt_ Market being built in Grand Crossing.

17. In Bronzeville and Kenwood, The Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab created a food distribution hub after some South Side grocers temporarily closed after being looted. It’s supported by the The Bronzeville/Kenwood Mutual Aid network.

Credit: Provided
Volunteers greet people at the Bronzeville/Kenwood Mutual Aid network’s food and supply distribution Oct. 2. The distributions are held at Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, 4445 S. King Drive.

18. South Chicago-based master gardener Gregory Bratton is responsible for nearly 100 urban farms across Chicago, playing an instrumental role in bringing free fresh food to the South Side. Coronavirus didn’t slow down his efforts.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Gregory Bratton poses in the Trayvon Martin Everlasting Community Garden, 8454 S. Escanaba Ave., which directly neighbors his house. The Buddha head is not religious, but rather a reminder of peace, Bratton said; it’s one of 100 across Chicago he helped to install.

19. In Gage Park, the Gage Park Latinx Council gave away 3,000 pounds of food within 15 minutes of openings its mercadito. The market serves 75-100 families weekly.

Credit: Provided
For nearly a year, the Gage Park Latinx Council has been providing food to families facing food insecurity on the Southwest Side.

20. In Pullman, Brittanee Rolle and other organizers launched Feed the People, a pop-up distribution providing food, infant formula and feminine products Fridays. Over the duration, 1,000 people were helped.

Credit: Delacreme Scholars
The Scholar Slide By volunteers pack fresh groceries to be delivered to homes on the South and West sides.

21. In Avondale, chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, the husband-and-wife team behind Wherewithall, shifted their model to become a community kitchen, offering 1-cent or pay-what-you-can meals.