ARCHER HEIGHTS — For two years, a Southwest Side community organization has arranged regular giveaways of baby gear and clothing for local families in need.
The Southwest Collective launched Freebies For Families in 2019 after the murder of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez. The pregnant 19-year-old was lured into a home in the Scottsdale neighborhood with the promise of getting a stroller in exchange for baby clothes. Instead, she was strangled and her baby boy was cut from her body.
In response, Southwest Collective worked to establish a broader network of families supporting one another, allowing people to give away what baby supplies they could and others to take what they needed.
Since launching at a community library, the collective has grown its operation to help hundreds of families, said Adriana Vargas, who coordinates the program with Nicole Linarez.
Freebies For Families happens every fourth Saturday of the month. The next edition is noon-2 p.m. Saturday at the United Credit Parking Lot, 4444 S. Pulaski Road in Archer Heights.
“We have been trying to grow it and provide the community space that is really missing on the Southwest Side in particularly for young parents,” said Jaime Groth Searle, Southwest Collective’s executive director.
The event offers families in need a safe opportunity to browse a selection of donated items while connecting with neighbors, Groth Searle said.
People donating to the exchange are asked to come by the site with their items 10-11 a.m., so organizers can arrange the items for parents in need to browse noon-2 p.m.
Vargas said the group has seen donations ranging from baby clothes, strollers, cribs, car seats, baby gear and other furniture. The added financial strains from COVID-19 make these necessities especially difficult for families to afford, she said.
Earlier this year, the group also launched a diaper drive to buy diapers for families in need.
The group had to adapt during the pandemic to ensure families still could receive assistance. They coordinated pickups and dropoffs on families’ stoops. They also organized a pop-up baby shower for some expectant mothers unable to have their own showers because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have been trying to maintain this even throughout COVID because we really want this to be a community event …,” Groth Searle said. “It’s a community of other moms who have your back and let you know you’re not alone.”
“We know there was a need for them, especially with a lot of them who lost their jobs and didn’t have a way to get the items they needed for their families, Vargas said. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it to the see the smiles of the moms and seeing how grateful they were.”
In creating this event, the Southwest Collective wanted to alleviate the stresses of young families and eliminate the stigma of asking for help getting necessary items for their children, Groth Searle said.
Earlier this year, also the Southwest Collective launched a food program to get laid-off restaurant workers back to work while feeding families in need.
“We all need a hand every once and awhile, and it’s OK to ask for help,” Vargas said.
Learn more about Freebies For Families or how to donate here.
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