Please note: The Beverly Review is providing this article for free due to a generous grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
When COVID-19 shut down the city and state, local residents immediately went to work helping others, whether it was making facemasks for front-line workers or donating food and household items to people in need.
In recent weeks, many of those neighbors have united to organize a long list of charitable efforts for people living in or near the community.
Calling themselves 19th Ward Mutual Aid, organizers want to help anyone—whether it’s a child or adult—who needs assistance.
“It’s just overwhelming,” said Tim Noonan, a Beverly resident spearheading the effort. “So many people want to help.”
19th Ward Mutual Aid’s latest effort is a weekly “free store,” where visitors can pick up hygiene and first-aid products.
The first store debuted on May 27 at the Beverly Area Planning Association community room, 11109 S. Longwood Dr., and will be open every Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m.
Visitors can select items they need, including soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, feminine-care products, medicine and bandages.
Greg Owen-Boger, vice president of Turpin Communication in Beverly, is overseeing the free stores. His company runs a Turpin Cares initiative that oversees several charitable efforts, including free stores at other locations, and Noonan reached out to him for help.
Owen-Boger said being part of the effort offered the chance to be among people doing good things during a public health crisis.
He credited supporters for stepping up during uncertain times.
“Our donors have been so incredibly generous,” he said. “We were concerned that that wouldn’t happen only because everybody for a while was really concerned about money, because there were so many unknowns.”
Since late April, 19th Ward Mutual Aid members have brainstormed ideas at weekly meetings held every Saturday via Zoom video conference calls.
Noonan saw a Facebook group conducting a similar project, and when he suggested a local effort, “tons and tons of people” expressed interest.
Their list of accomplishments is already impressive.
Members heard about Lutheran Social Services in south suburban Dolton needing 102 facemasks, and after 70 were donated, “Nice Chicks With Sewing Machines,” a local Facebook group, provided the other 32 the next day.
Members received a message about a single mother with eight people in her family, including some with underlying health issues, and they provided diapers and other household items.
A church in Ravenswood has supplied food for the group to distribute, and members have met with area pastors to learn of their needs.
Members of 19th Ward Mutual Aid are also supporting the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry, 11030 S. Longwood Dr.
Noonan said the group wants to help anyone using the pantry.
“We’re trying to respect their dignity,” Noonan said. “We’ll drop it off to you, or we’ll meet you wherever you need to be.”
The group will preserve people’s anonymity, he said, with “no questions asked.”
Organizers also want to engage with children whose activities such as sports and camps have been canceled.
They’re looking to social media applications such as TikTok, in which users create humorous videos set to popular songs, to create fun opportunities for kids.
“We can kind of engage them in a way that’s still safe,” Noonan said.
Noonan is known in the community for leading an effort in recent years to restore a World War I memorial in the Dan Ryan Woods. During that project, he said, he witnessed “the strength of the community.”
He said people will experience the ramifications of COVID-19 for several years, and 19th Ward Mutual Aid will do its part to minimize their struggles.
“It’d be great if the need didn’t exist,” Noonan said, “but in a lot of places, the need does exist.”
For more information, email Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the 19th Ward Mutual Aid page on Facebook.