COVID-19 Across Chicago: Portage Park

Portage Park on Chicago’s Northwest Side is home to many trade workers and first responders, and it’s anchored by a few main business districts, single-family homes and apartment buildings. 

It’s a majority White neighborhood that also has a sizable Latino population, and a small African American community.

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Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

That’s why organizers in the neighborhood felt it was important their community show up to rally for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter last week.

Organizer Cornell Bars says the march drew around 1,000 participants along the main corridors of the neighborhood. 

“It was important for us to stand in solidarity with Black lives. We have a very White majority community, and we wanted to make the message was clear that Portage and Jefferson Park stand in solidarity with Black lives,” he said. 

An iconic section of Portage Park is the Six Corners area, a thriving commercial district with restaurants, shops and service agencies like insurance companies. 

One local business that is gearing up for a return is the International Traditional Karate Center on Irving Park Road. Mahmoud Bambouyani says he has offered karate lessons on Zoom, but will welcome students back to focus on fundamentals training

Because of social distancing guidelines, the early stages of reopening will not include actual one-on-one karate matches. 

Also preparing for a larger reopening is the nondenominational Liberty Christian Church, which has roped off every other pew to allow for social distancing. 

The church plans to take temperature checks and issue masks and hand sanitizer to worshippers entering the building. 

“Understanding that it’s going to be a slower process to enter the building, we really want to make it a celebration and kind of a grand reopening,” said pastor Tommy Molina. “So we want to have balloons outside, people outside, music outside, talking to people as they’re waiting to come in."

Another anchor in Portage Park is the Polish American Association, which has been around since the early 1920s. 

These days, the group provides a wide range of social services across Chicago, including counseling, immigration help and education. 

The group’s chairman Greg Kojak says COVID-19 has posed some major funding challenges for the organization, as the state diverts money for virus response. 

“As COVID-19 hit, all the funds were redirected for emergency health care, for the pandemic,” he said. So we had to figure out very quickly how we would be able to manage that situation, keep our programs going, while trying to get all of our people set up at home.” 

Watch our full interview with Kojak below.

Follow us on Twitter: @paschutz / @rquinnmyers

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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