We’re in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and cases are on the rise. As of November 17, 25,500 people are actively infected, and as many as 1 in 15 Chicagoans may have coronavirus. On November 12, Mayor Lightfoot announced a stay-at-home advisory for the city of Chicago that discourages leaving home outside of trips to school, work, and to secure basic needs.

Given the rising case load and restrictions on gathering indoors, we’re adjusting our programs to continue to meet the needs of our community and limit the spread of the virus. To keep staff and neighbors as safe as possible, all our in-person programming is temporarily transitioning back to being virtual only. 

Here’s an update on how we are adapting in this moment.

Increasing Frontlines Support

As the holiday season begins in earnest, our team has been diligently working to prepare the Peace House, organizing supplies and re-arranging the space to accommodate and streamline our frontlines operation for winter. Our Peace House was closed for programming a few weeks ago, but quiet as it may seem on the outside, the Peace House has been bustling with neighbors and staff that have been working hard to get everything sorted. 

We are resuming our full delivery and pick up service of prepared meals, pantry items, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to our neighbors on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

We have been operating our frontlines program since March, and so far have provided to our community:

  • 35,221 prepared meals
  • 73,151 staple food items
  • 13,724 protective face masks
  • 4,252 bottles of hand sanitizer
  • 3,335 rolls of toilet paper

If you are in need of support, please call 773-245-2212. 

If you would like to donate pantry items, supplies, or PPE, you can view our Amazon wishlist or visit our COVID-19 response page to make a financial gift. Please note our new mailing address is: 818 E 63rd St, Suite 818 #274, Chicago, IL 60637. 

Spreading joy during the holidays

This time of the year, usually we are prepping the Peace House to welcome as many guests and as many families as possible. Even though we cannot gather, even though we will miss laughing and goofing off with our neighbors in our annual Feast with Friends and our Holiday Party, we are still providing love and care in whatever way we can. This year, on top of our frontlines support, our holiday sponsorship initiatives will be our largest yet as an organization. 

Feast with Friends: 

While we can’t gather for our Feast with Friends the way we have in past years, we’re banding together to distribute thousands of food items so that our community can celebrate Thanksgiving from the safety of their homes. We’re giving away:

  • more than 300 whole turkeys provided by Hyde Park Day School and KWOE Foundation 
  • 2,200 prepared Thanksgiving meals provided by Chi Fresh Kitchen, Rethink, Girl and the Goat, World Central Kitchen, Cruelty Free You + Me, Entertainment Company, and Bella Ru. Meals include mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, stuffing, and vegetable side. 
  • 1,000 fresh bread rolls provided by Alpha Baking Company
  • 250 whole pies provided by Vanille 

Our turkey distribution is Monday, November 23 (sign up in advance required), and our meal distribution will be Wednesday, November 25 (walk-ups welcome).

During our turkey distribution Monday, we’re also providing free COVID-19 testing on our Peace Campus 10 am – 1 pm that day in an additional effort to keep our community healthy. ComEd will be distributing LED energy-saving light bulbs as well, helping families prepare for the winter season. 

Share the Love Holiday Drive: 

Our Share the Love program is also still going strong, as our team is in the midst of organizing presents for kids, preparing them for pick-up and delivery in December. We expect to support more than 900 children through our Share the Love holiday drive. This year has been turbulent for everyone in our world, but especially for our children, and we’re committed to ensuring that they have a good holiday season.

Nomad Chicago has generously donated their warehouse space for all of our gift sorting, allowing us to stay socially distanced throughout the whole process. If you would like to volunteer to receive, check in, and sort gifts, you can sign up to volunteer here. There will always be someone from I Grow Chicago on-site to support, and shifts are limited to 2 people to ensure safety protocols.

Supporting remote learning

When COVID forced our children to stay home from school and complete their schooling online, we mobilized to launch our Born to Thrive program supporting 40 children. Over the past couple of months, our children have met in small learning pods on our Peace Campus to complete their lessons and receive tutoring, food, and after-school support. With COVID at its highest transmission rate in Chicago since the pandemic started, we’re transitioning our Born to Thrive learning program to virtual support for the next several weeks. 

While we are not currently able to meet in person due to the Mayor’s stay-at-home advisory, we still have the same goals for our kids. Here is how we’re adapting each aspect of our program:

  • Learning support and tutoring: Our advocates make check-in calls to each family in the morning to ensure that the school day has begun smoothly and assist with any early questions. Report cards came out last week, and the advocates are working on individualized tutoring plans for each child based on their strengths, goals, and areas for improvement. 
  • After school support: Social interaction and play outside of school is essential for the health of our kids and their learning. Our advocates are holding after school Google Meet sessions focused on fun games and processing the day to help our kids unwind and connect with their friends while keeping themselves and their families safe. This support will be a combination of fun games, crafts, and activities to simulate an engaging classroom environment, as well as individualized tutoring specific to each kid’s academic needs. 
  • Basic needs and supplies sponsorship: Each family will receive a care package containing two meals per each kid in the family provided by Rethink and Girl and the Goat, as well as other household and COVID-safety items. These packages are being delivered to every family at least once per week. In addition, we will be putting together crafts, board games, and any other supplies for after school group activities.
  • Wraparound advocacy: We’re doubling down on individualized support for every child and family. Each child is receiving an average of two hours of support four days a week, and we’re excited to have been able to open the program up to more families with this virtual format. We’re now supporting 41 kids from 21 families in our community with all aspects of their learning, basic needs, and socio-emotional growth. We will continue to check in with parents, guardians, teachers, and school social workers for individualized student needs, with a major strategic focus of this time on building our relationships with teachers, social workers, and school administrators to best support our kids and their families during this transition.

Continuing community wellness

Our Community Wellness team is transitioning our Strive to Thrive case management program to be primarily virtual, with some in-person support provided individually. Program components include:

  • Job counseling:  We are providing resume support, job applications, and career coaching over the phone, and we are still piloting our Wellness Workforce Initiative cohort program which will officially launch in 2021. In addition, we continue to provide short-term employment opportunities to residents each week. This year we have invested $100,000+ in short-term community employment opportunities.
  • ID support: Ms. Ora Bradley, a member of our Wisdom Council and our certified notary public, will continue to notarize State ID documents on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Basic needs sponsorship: We will continue to meet community needs with support for medication, work uniforms, and other basic needs. This year, we launched a partnership with Chicago Furniture Bank and so far have sponsored over $1,000 worth of furniture when community members receive stable housing.
  • Wellness coaching: Wellness coaching and counseling sessions with our Strive to Thrive Manager, Bobbie Logan will be provided by phone. 
  • Legal Assistance: Our partner Legal Aid Chicago continues to provide civil legal support and public benefits counseling by phone. For benefits applications, clients can call Georgia Hutchins directly at 773.497.3017. She can receive photos of documents via text or email and will use regular mail to send documents requiring signatures. For other legal needs, please contact our Director of Community Wellness, Karen Clark, at 773-245-2212 for a referral. 

Creating beauty

Our Community Art Force continues to create and bring joy to our Peace Campus! They’ve been hard at work for weeks honing their skills as artists and we are so proud to see the progress they have made and all the designs that they have created in such a short amount of time. Most recently, our Art Force was selected to decorate a shop window on the Magnificent Mile for the holidays! 

Staying connected

We know that the times in which connection and love are most difficult are the times in which they are most necessary. To facilitate community while we can’t gather, we are:

  • Distributing fliers with information about our Frontlines support, holiday programs, COVID testing, resources, and major news to make sure everyone stays up-to-date and safe
  • Hosting our next community safety forum on Wednesday, December 2 5:30-7:30 pm. Face masks / PPE and hand sanitizer will be provided to all participants. We will also deep clean the space before and after the event and keep the windows open during the event to minimize risk. 
  • Our partner Pause for Peace will continue to be on-site providing violence interruption and community engagement daily through the end of January.