Distributing COVID Relief Kits – and Hope – in Aurora and Englewood

May 14, 2021

Our most vulnerable neighbors – minority communities, seniors, homeless individuals, and other at-risk groups – will be feeling the effects of the pandemic longer than most of us. Disparities in health care, financial safeguards, educational opportunities, and reliable information leave some people much more vulnerable – and less likely to recover.

This past Saturday, The Salvation Army hosted two events to help level the playing field – offering help and hope to all our neighbors. Our Aurora Corps Community Center and Red Shield Center in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood distributed hundreds of COVID relief kits to help see these communities through this difficult time.

“While our food pantry numbers have not increased, the requests for rental/mortgage assistance, as well as utilities and other necessities, have skyrocketed,” said Captain Gabriela (Gaby) Rangel, corps officer at the Aurora corps. “While we do our best to respond to their needs, there are still many unmet needs.”

In Aurora, Captain Gaby, her husband Captain Joaquin, and their team of volunteers distributed relief packages to 142 families. Each kit contained household items such as paper towels, bathroom tissue, laundry detergent, disinfectant wipes, and all-purpose cleaner, as well as toiletries including deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, and feminine hygiene products. They estimate the items will help more than 500 people in the Aurora area.

“’An unexpected blessing’ is what a recipient said as she left the premises with the items she received for her family,” Captain Gaby said. “Another one came back with a thank-you card as we were still working. We had phone calls on Monday saying they were so grateful the Salvation Army was doing this, and we had a person come by and bring a poster she did with some neighbors as a thank you.”

The two Salvation Army locations were chosen for this event based on the number of requests for assistance they received during our Christmas outreach last year. In addition, these communities have received some of the most requests for emergency assistance, including help with rent and utility payments. It was clear these communities have been hard-hit by the pandemic. And it was also clear these communities were grateful for the help. Salvation Army canteens (mobile feeding units) were at both sites serving hot dogs, chips, and bottled water to all who attended, and assorted clothing and shoes were available to attendees as well.

In Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, officers, staff, and volunteers at the Army’s Red Shield Center passed out relief packages to more than 400 families, representing assistance reaching nearly 1,500 individuals. “People are grateful for any kind of help right now,” said DeShawn Johnson, Community Center Director at the Red Shield Center. “The people here are resilient and resourceful. They’ve been finding a way to make it through, because that’s what they do. But every time something like this is available, it helps lighten the load.”

DeShawn’s wife, Envoy Christal Johnson, also noted the impact this event will have. “One of my favorite responses was ‘Well, I guess I have no excuse now . . . I will have to do this spring cleaning after all.’ Even though lighthearted, this comment struck a chord with me because we were actually meeting a need she had come to accept would not be fulfilled,” Envoy Christal said. “A family living on a fixed income will have to cut corners where possible. Often times cleaning supplies or brand-new socks are the first thing to be removed.”

Carmen Staggers, Assistant Social Services Director for the Army’s Metropolitan Division and one of the event organizers, said it was a surprise blessing that the distribution took place the day before Mother’s Day. Several families found clothes and other items to give their mom, and several moms were able to treat themselves and their kids to new clothes and shoes. “One woman said, ‘This is the best Mother’s Day I’ve ever had!’” Carmen said, adding that all those who attended were grateful for the assistance.

As always, Army staff and volunteers were grateful to serve their neighbors in need, especially in these tough times. “We thank God for the opportunity to serve Him in this community,” said Captain Gaby. “We wanted to give them hope that things will get better, that God knows what they need and He will supply!” Envoy Christal echoed this sentiment. “Our hope is that when each person left the Englewood Red Shield Center with their arms full, they were able to leave behind the same amount of worry or burden!"

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