As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt in Chicago and beyond, a neighborhood mutual aid project has expanded to meet the needs of people in Hyde Park and surrounding areas.
The project began in mid-March as an online spreadsheet, after resident Laura Staley heard about a group of Bernie Sanders volunteers starting a similar mutual aid initiative in Michigan. This week, Staley launched a website to ask for donations and track people’s requests, many of them for financial assistance.
“It started off with lots of requests with help getting groceries and running a few errands for people who couldn't necessarily go out,” said Staley, a stay-at-home mother with a master’s degree in social work.
More than 50 people signed up to help in the first few weeks of the initiative. “We had more volunteers than people who were asking for need,” Staley said. “I think with a pandemic like COVID, it showcases just how essential people are that are making minimum wage and may not have health insurance or housing stability …. I think there's like a level of appreciation that people are developing for the fact that they're taking that risk maybe, and that's stirring some of the generosity.”
As the pandemic and its accompanying economic crisis have worn on, the composition of the requests changed — from small tasks such as grocery delivery to larger asks, often help paying for rent, utilities, and other necessities. Staley also said that people in adjacent neighborhoods, like Washington Park and Woodlawn, began to send in requests.
“My husband and I came up with the idea that a website would be a better way, because then we could source from a bunch of families all at once, and it would give people more agency in who they were choosing to support,” said Staley, who noted that the project is getting about five requests per week.
Apart from a spreadsheet tracking requests for help, there’s also the option to give money, as either a one-time or recurring donation. Staley and her husband are matching monthly donations up to $5,000.
“We are at the beginning, essentially, of what people are really going to need in terms of financial support, and our government is not going to step up and adopt universal income or start sending out stimulus checks every month,” Staley said. “We'd like to get as many people as possible signing up to give monthly, so that it automates it and they don't even have to think about it.”
Mutual aid projects have sprung up around the country, as communities of people try to figure out how best to support the most vulnerable. Staley noted that, in some cases, families she connected for one-time requests have stayed in touch over the past few months, forming what she called an “extended community network.”
“It's important for me to just say that this project doesn't exist without Hyde Park. Really, it's the generosity of Hyde Park that makes it work — I'm just sort of connecting people,” she said. “Also, there’s the fact that even if people don't want to donate to this, we all need to do our part and be donating somewhere.”
Hyde Park COVID-19 Resource Outreach, hydepark.help