The 7-Year-Old on a Mission
When people pulled up to the Oakbrook Terrace Salvation Army food pantry on a recent Thursday afternoon, they received a little something extra – thanks to a 7-year-old girl named Olivia.
After Army volunteers placed a box or two of food in their car’s trunk or backseat, clients were greeted by Olivia Tyler, who enthusiastically asked if they wanted any face masks. If the answer was yes, and it always was, she held up her box of individually bagged face masks and politely asked, “Does it matter what colors?” Because when you’re in the second grade, it does.
Olivia has been passionate about helping homeless individuals and others in need for the past year, ever since her dad showed her a video of someone picking on a homeless man. “It wasn’t very kind or nice,” Olivia said.
“Every time we would pass a vacant house, she’d ask if we could buy it for the homeless,” Olivia’s mom, Linda, said.
When COVID-19 struck, her daughter became even more concerned. “We started passing out masks as a result of the order that the governor put into place that everyone needed to be covered,” Linda said. Olivia worried about homeless individuals living in tent cities. How could they be expected to follow such orders? “All people need a mask,” Olivia said.
So she and her parents bought a bulk order of face masks, realizing that hand-making the number they wanted to provide would be prohibitive. They were delighted to find some washable masks with Christian sayings on them. For every mask Olivia sold, they agreed to donate one to people in need. They have already donated several hundred masks to other area shelters, and have applied to become a nonprofit organization, called Olivia Dru Cares (Dru is Olivia’s middle name).
The mask giveaway at the Salvation Army happened by happy accident. Olivia and her parents were delivering masks to people who had ordered them online and mistakenly wound up at the front door of Captains Caleb and Stephanie Senn, corps officers at the Oakbrook Terrace Salvation Army.
“I had seen her picture and her passing out masks earlier that day and thought, Oh, that would be so great if she could come do that at The Salvation Army,” Captain Stephanie said. After their chance meeting on her front porch, they made plans for Olivia to bring 250 masks for their food pantry clients. The Oakbrook Terrace pantry has seen nearly double the number of families coming for food each week, and the staff hadn’t been able to offer their clients masks yet. Thankfully, Olivia changed that.
Olivia’s ultimate goal is to raise enough money to buy or build a homeless shelter, a fact that is especially meaningful to her dad, Andrew. His family was homeless for a while when he was growing up. “She asked me what it was like when I was homeless,” he said, adding that Olivia was troubled when he told her that most shelters separate male and female family members.
“Sometimes I tear up a bit,” he said, watching his daughter with pride as she handed four masks into a car window with a “God bless you!” “You know, she wasn’t breathing when she was born. Linda started bleeding out.” Thankfully they both pulled through. “My mother calls Olivia her angel.”
If Olivia keeps helping those in need, and there’s no doubt that she will, her grandma might have to share that nickname with a lot of grateful people whose lives she has touched.
Learn about all the ways The Salvation Army is responding to the coronavirus – as well as how you can help – at salarmychicago.org/coronavirus.
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For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.