Chicago, Illinois, USA
Just as in the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause millions of people to remain without work across the United States. More than 10 million people remain jobless with an unemployment rate of 6.3% according to the latest statistics from the federal government. This is a vast improvement over April 2020’s rate of 14.7%, however it is nearly double January 2020’s number of 3.5%.
AYUDH is the youth wing of Embracing the World. Members of the Chicago chapter were reflecting upon the impact in their community, which is one of the hardest hit in the country. They quickly decided that instead of just talking, they were going to do something.
“Many families have even become evicted from their homes and are living in their vehicles. Due to the severe Chicago cold, winter clothes such as jackets, hats and gloves are a huge priority. AYUDH members were moved by this great need and felt like taking action, so decided to arrange a food and clothing drive,” explains Chandan.
Within three weeks, AYUDH Chicago assembled a volunteer team, coordinated donations of both supply and monetary donations, and connected with organizations in the Chicago area to distribute food, clothing, toys and other essential needs.
“From the recipients I met during delivery of supplies, a mother stood out to me the most. She first went to pick up a plushy toy hidden amongst the stack for her child before she turned to pick out her food and clothes,” shares Divya.
“The mother’s instinct to provide her child with the warmth of the stuffed animal during the harsh winter before addressing her own basic needs stood out to me as the ultimate form of love.”
First step was donations. Due to COVID-19, drop-off had to be contactless, so a designated area was established at MA Center Chicago. People who lived too far away to donate items instead decided to contribute funds, and AYUDH volunteers shopped for them.
“When we went to buy supplies, some cashiers asked what the massive cart full of items was for. When they found out it was for a food and clothing drive, they were very moved and felt inspired to do the same,” explains Chandan.
AYUDH members then gathered at MA Center once all the donations were collected and sorted each item by types of food, pieces of winter clothing, and other categories of essential items. With just a handful of volunteers, they managed to sort hundreds of items in a couple of hours.
The next step was how to get the supplies to people in need. AYUDH decided to connect with two established agencies—Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and Clothes Closet in suburban Chicago and Mission of Our Lady of the Angels near downtown Chicago, which serves populations drastically more in need.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, both agencies arranged contactless drop-off. This involved driving the items to the locations and assisting pantry staff in distribution to the recipients.
“It was difficult to interact with or see the people up close, but at Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, many of the recipients were homeless and immediately gathered to collect items laid out on the street corner in front of the shelter. This despite the fact that we were outside in sub-zero weather,” says Chandan.
For AYUDH Chicago, the biggest success was that regardless of COVID-19 restrictions, they were able to collect more than $750 US worth of food items and hundreds of pieces of clothing. Coming together during the pandemic in the spirit of giving meant they also benefited from the experience.
“I was touched by directly seeing the huge impact of collectively putting our community’s efforts together and how it directly helped the poor and homeless during this cold winter season amidst a raging pandemic,” concludes Divya.
“The recipients collected healthy groceries, clean clothes, comforting winter gear and hygienic products. They seemed to at least get some relief from this life-giving support.”