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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.

Credit: Ariel Cheung/DNAinfo
Husband-and-wife chefs Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim in front of Parachute, 3500 N. Elston Ave.

22. In October, 450 moms scattered across the city donated 1,700 lasagnas to out-of-work moms and others in need.

Credit: Provided.
Erin Hallett, from Wicker Park, is one of the volunteers for the nonprofit Lasagna Love.

We Housed People

23. In Ravenswood, the Luceros, the family of nine behind the Cielito Lindo mariachi band, were facing eviction. COVID-19 canceled events and closed theaters, cutting the family’s regular income by nearly half. But neighbors came to their rescue, raising $66,000 for the family, covering months of unpaid back rent and securing several months of future payments.

Credit: Facebook / Provided
The Lucero family, who live in Ravenswood, make up “Cielito Lindo,” a modern Mariachi band in Chicago.

24. In Avondale, three homeless encampments were set on fire within three hours in July. Neighbors donated tents, bedding and other supplies to help residents get back on their feet.

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
Antonio Ortega (pictured) lost all of his belongings in the Monday afternoon fire.

25. When West Garfield Park was hit with a bitter cold snap in February, restaurant owner Jermaine Jordan launched GoFundMe to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets and into hotel rooms. In the first few days of the effort, he rented 38 rooms to shelter those in need.

Jermaine Jordan has been getting hotel rooms and giving food for people experiencing homelessness across Chicago.

We Launched Hotlines And Checked On Neighbors

26. Spurred by Tanya Lozano, founder of Pilsen’s Healthy Hood, activists across Chicago launched We Got Us to deliver masks, groceries and other critical supplies to the South and West sides. The group also launched a ZIP-code-specific hotline where volunteers connect callers to food pantries and testing centers.

Credit: Instagram
Organizers, including Tanya Lozano (far right) are helping pack care packages for people in need.

27. In Greater Grand Crossing in April, The Dovetail Project, a South Side nonprofit dedicated to helping young fathers, launched a 24-hour support line where dads could request essentials like diapers, formula and free food.

Credit: PROVIDED.
The Dovetail Project, a South Side nonprofit dedicated to helping young fathers, has created an emergency hotline to help those affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

28. In North Lawndale in July, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council created a helpline where residents could find local resources to help them meet basic needs.

Credit: Pidgeon Pagonis
Lawndale resident sews masks at Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

29. In March, My Block, My Hood, My City volunteers from across the city signed up to call isolated seniors for wellbeing checks.

Credit: My Block, My Hood, My City
My Block, My Hood, My City has been delivering supplies to seniors across the city for weeks.

We Made Masks

30. In Hyde Park, former librarian Leslie Travis tapped her numerous connections — including a sailmaker and quilting guild — to create a massive operation producing thousands of masks.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Leslie Travis poses on the porch of her Hyde Park home in a mask and a scrub cap she made. The scrub cap includes buttons to hold the mask and protect her ears.

31. In Wicker Park, Lauren Nepomuceno and Monica Paprocki launched an ambitious citywide mission to make cloth face masks for Chicago’s first responders and essential workers. In one month, Masks 4 Chicago’s 654 group members produced about 3,000 masks — all of which were donated to workers.

Credit: Lauren Nepomuceno / Provided

32. In Streeterville, 91-year-old great-grandmother Eszter Kutas made hundreds of masks and sold them, donating the proceeds to the COVID-19 Relief Fund at Northwestern Medicine. “I know it’s not too much, but it’s something.”

Eszter Kutas is sewing face masks in her condo in Streeterville and selling them to neighbors in Bucktown and Logan Square.

33. In Uptown, refugees who were learning to sew through RefugeeOne, like Sandra Muyumba, pivoted during the pandemic, making thousands of masks to donate to the community.

Credit: Provided
Sandra Muyumba, a client of RefugeeOne, makes protective face masks from her West Ridge home.

34. In West Town, Lauren Young sewed 8,000 masks to help neighbors. Over the holidays, she sewed 1,800 masks for seniors in West Town

Credit: Lauren Young / Provided

We Donated Supplies To Protect People

35. In Ravenswood, Koval distillery delivered 500 gallons of free hand sanitizer in April to Chicago nonprofits struggling to find supplies. The distillery, known for its whiskey and gin, switched to producing hand sanitizer in March to address the nationwide shortage. Its first batches of free hand sanitizer went to retirement homes, first responders and health care workers.

Credit: Koval Distillery
Sonat Birnecker Hart, founder and president of Koval Distillery, fills hand sanitizer jugs.

36. In Pilsen, food pantry the Pilsen Social Health Initiative, founded by physicians Evelyn Figueroa and Alex Wu, expanded its mission by opening a thrift store, building a medical supply closet and hosting a social worker to get families the help they need.

Credit: Provided
Family medical physicians Evelyn Figueroa and Alex Wu started a food pantry inside a University of Illinois clinic in 2018 before expanding services at a new location.

37. In Portage Park in March, back when toilet paper was scarce, neighbor Jaclyn Crawford started putting rolls of toilet paper and other household supplies in a container outside her home with a sign that read, “Take what you need.” With help from My Block, My Hood, My City, she expanded her Treasure Box program this year.

Jaclyn Crawford

38. In March, Uptown Church members assembled emergency supply kits to pass out to neighbors in need. They also offered check-in calls to people who were isolated during the stay at home order.

Credit: Facebook/Uptown Church
Members of Uptown Church are stepping up to help members of the community during the coronavirus outbreak.

39. In Roseland, United Pullman and other groups passed out masks, diapers, hand sanitizer, baby food and other essentials to people in need in June.