In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, one Rogers Park resident decided to help her neighbors by cleaning out her pantry and setting aside the extra food to give to her neighbors.
“Reading so much about what’s going on with this whole pandemic and everyone panicking, made me really worried about people who might not have the ability to go to the grocery store and get household items that used to be readily available,” said Tricia Gopalakrishnan, who has lived in Rogers Park since graduating from Loyola in 2015.
Gopalakrishnan donated six bags of food to neighbors who contacted her through the Rogers Park Neighborhood News Facebook Group. One of the neighbors was a 72-year-old woman who wasn’t able to come pick up the bag on her own, so Gopalakrishnan walked it to her door.
“I’m not going to have a 72-year-old woman take a 20 minute walk to me to get some free stuff,” Gopalakrishnan said. “If you’re asking for something that’s really a need, that means you don’t have the money or the ability in whatever way to get that elsewhere.”
As cases of COVID-19 — the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus — across the state and country rise, universities and businesses have closed and people are staying home. On March 20, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a stay-at-home order, which requires nonessential businesses to close and asks people to stay in their houses unless absolutely necessary.
As people adjust to the major changes in their daily lives, they also have to deal with stress and uncertainty about the future which has led some people to hoard supplies from grocery stores. In addition, some businesses deemed nonessential have been forced to let go of or furlough their workers, leaving a number of Chicago residents without a steady income, The Phoenix reported.
But Rogers Park residents, including Gopalakrishnan, have stepped up to help their neighbors get through the hardships caused by the outbreak. Maria Hadden, alderwoman of the 49th Ward which covers Rogers Park, created the Rogers Park Community Response Team (RPCRT) to help organize some of the efforts.
The team, made up of about 300 volunteers, offers online informational resources in both Spanish and English — such as an FAQ with common questions about the virus and a list of local businesses to get food and medicine. There’s also a hotline residents can call or text, a group trained to safely deliver groceries and prescriptions, and even people who are willing to just chat on the phone to help with emotional health, Hadden said.
The hotline launched early last week and more than 30 people have called. Hadden said one woman called to ask for advice about who could watch her newborn baby should she and her husband get sick. Another resident called to ask for a grocery delivery, but needed help paying for it, so a few volunteers pitched in to buy and deliver supplies.
In addition to helping neighbors with everyday needs, the community’s support for businesses, including Gingerslam Nail Bar (6622 N. Clark St.), has helped owners including Rogers resident Trevor Engelhardt continue paying the bills, he said.
After temporarily closing his salon to prevent further spread of the novel 2019 coronavirus, Engelhardt said he was worried about what closing down would mean for his business. Then his phone started ringing with clients calling in to prepay for manicures and other services they plan to get when the salon reopens.
“We still have to pay rent, still payroll, all of those things with no money coming in,” Engelhardt said. “So, for that to happen and for people to be calling and for the phone to be ringing … it’s just been so incredibly helpful for us.”
Belia Rodriguez lives in Rogers Park and owns a business that offers IT support called Chicago Info Tech. She said she has been working 15-hour days to try to help local businesses stay afloat. She said she’s been helping small businesses get set up online so employees can work from home.
Rodriguez, also an executive board member of the Rogers Park Business Alliance, has been brainstorming more ways people can support local businesses. She suggested buying gift cards, ordering food from local restaurants and shopping for groceries and medicine at local stores.
“I’ve just been here getting fat in my sweatpants over here, trying to order in from places,” Rodriguez said. “The more you can support them during this time, the more the residents will be able to benefit from that.”
Engelhardt said watching his neighbors support each other during the outbreak has helped boost his morale.
“It’s really nice to see everybody pulling together for this,” Englehardt said. “I know that these are early days and I hope it continues, but what I’ve seen so far has been a pretty dramatic response.”