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Communities already battling poverty, disinvestment, lack of medical care, food deserts, violence, and housing insecurity are the least able to weather the storm of the pandemic, as well as the shelter in place mandates that keep us all safe.

With schools, parks and libraries closed, and jobs lost, community organizations are the unsung first responders in the fight against COVID-19. Even in the face of the shelter in place mandate and lost revenues from already shoestring budgets, the dedicated staff, volunteers and leaders, are not sitting idly by, waiting for marching orders, grants or solutions from above.  They are doing what they have always done: acting now to respond to deep community needs and providing a bridge to tomorrow and a future.

They need our support – now. Here are some amazing organizations on the frontlines of the pandemic – staving off the harm of poverty intensified by the shutdown and helping help flatten the curve.  Check out these highlights of what they’re doing and ways you can support.

I Grow Chicago

“If in doubt, love” is I Grow Chicago’s motto. Their Peace Campus in West Englewood is located in a part of our city where 59% face food insecurity and 41% do not have health insurance. A huge, 30-year life expectancy disparity exists between downtown Chicago and Englewood. The current COVID-19 crisis threatens to widen that gap even further, throwing into chaos many families’ fragile balancing acts to survive.

But in a world where love lives in public, this crisis won’t disconnect the I Grow community– it is tying their resilience to each other. With that spirit, this small but big-hearted organization is working overtime to make sure their community is loved and cared for. From delivering food and weekly educational kits to creating communal channels for connection with daily remote tutoring and a virtual prayer circle, I Grow is building life-saving bridges of support and solidarity from block to block, family to family, in one of Chicago’s most vulnerable communities.

How to help:

  • Donate antibacterial hand soap + bar soap, food (rice, beans, cans of soup, cans of fruit + veggies), toilet paper, bleach + cleaning supplies, or medical gloves → drop donations off with the doorman at 415 E North Water Street, #2503.
  • Make a donation to support I Grow’s outreach efforts → here
  • Send I Grow an item on their wish list → here

Kids Off the Block

Fueled by devoted community members and volunteers, Kids Off the Block is passionate about making sure all youth have a chance at life. Bringing together 300 young people, many of whom might be enemies if they met on the street, KOB’s summer basketball league is more than a game – it is a bridge to a better future.  Next to KOB’s basketball court, Diane has erected a beautiful but tragically growing memorial to youth killed by gun violence, a powerful reminder of what is at stake when bullets fly.

Since the outbreak of covid-19, community activists Diane Latiker (KOB founder) and Dawn Valenti haven’t been able to sleep. The thought of the most vulnerable — the homeless, youth in volatile homes, those already fighting addiction and mental illness — falling through the cracks kept them up at night. They know all too well how easily those who need help the most are the hardest to reach and get left behind, especially when social service agencies and providers are facing record demand and place-based services are all closed.

But they also know that no life is expendable. So they took matters into their own hands and are taking desperately services on the road, converting Diane’s husband van into a Response and Resource mobile. Every day they travel to communities throughout the city, connecting with grass roots organizers to share PPE supplies, food and information on how to stay safe to people on the street, tent cities and shelters across Chicago to those who are invisible to most. Diane and Dawn still aren’t sleeping much (there’s too much to do!), but they are making sure that every life is treated like it’s worth saving.

How to help:
Donate funds at https://kidsofftheblock.us or email dianekob@hotmail.com if you can hand sanitizer, masks or food!

New Life Centers

When covid-19 hit, New Life Centers quickly moved their mentoring and education programs to mobile mode and expanded their food delivery service to hundreds of families a week, many of whom are out of work, , elderly and high risk – all made even more dire for the undocumented who are ineligible for any . But some of their services were so vital that not even a global pandemic could disrupt them, like violence intervention on the streets of Humboldt Park and Little Village where the coronavirus isn’t the only threat to life. New Life Centers’ outreach workers have remained on the front lines, quickly responding to incidents of violence and working around the clock to stop the next shooting.

Working with the city and other agencies to widen the safety net, New Life Centers is also focusing on those who are most alone during this crisis. To make sure no young person feels forgotten, New Life Centers organized a letter writing campaign to incarcerated youth who are facing the brunt of this crisis alone with all visits suspended. By continuing to provide emergency relief to families in need without leaving behind the most vulnerable, New Life Centers is proving why community organizations — with their clear understanding of what’s needed and earned trust — are some of the most critical front line responders in this crisis.

How to help:

Support the Stronger Together Response Fund to help New Life Centers deliver emergency provisions to families in need → here

BUILD

BUILD serves vulnerable youth on the west side of Chicago, where gun violence and poverty hold too many young lives hostage. In the face of COVID-19, which has moved many of BUILD’s relationships and programming online, every mentor, outreach worker, and intervention specialist represents a lifeline of stability and support to countless young people on the brink of crisis.

As schools and community organizations are forced to shut their doors, BUILD’s youth cannot afford to take a break from the programs and services that have not only provided a rare safe haven, but an opportunity to explore their own talents and passions. BUILD is making sure they don’t have to by finding new ways to help vulnerable young people create their own safe havens through art. Since the crisis began, BUILD has distributed 100 arts kits to youth participants in partnership with local artists and TaskRabbit, helping young people find inner calm and escape daily stressors. At a fragile and perilous time in so many young people’s lives, BUILD remains a vital stabilizing force to keep them, not only safe, but healthy and whole.

How to help:

The pressures on young people already contending with poverty, gang violence, and trauma will only compound with the new risks created by this crisis. Support BUILD’s youth mentorship, gang intervention, and violence prevention programs and helping young people still have an outlet for creative expression and empowerment through Task Rabbit → here

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