‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Rogers Park

Holiday lights are beginning to go up in Rogers Park, Chicago’s northernmost neighborhood. 

The community hugs the coast of Lake Michigan, and spreads out to a college campus, small businesses, and large, historic homes. 

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It’s a neighborhood where seniors live in assisted-living buildings along Sheridan Road – just across the street from college kids who go to Loyola University. 

About a quarter of the residents here are Black and another quarter are Hispanic Latino. There’s also a large Orthodox Jewish population.

Two ZIP codes make up Rogers Park, and together they’ve seen about 5,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. That’s relatively high compared to case counts in Edgewater on the neighborhood’s southern end and Evanston to the north. 

But it’s far lower than the more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases that so far have been reported in the 60629 ZIP code on the Southwest Side, which includes West Lawn and Marquette Park. 

All across Chicago, the pandemic and rising case counts have heightened food insecurity, and Rogers Park has been anything but immune. 

Every Wednesday, the Howard Area Community Center gives away food to those who need it from its headquarters on Paulina Street. 

Employees say they used to distribute food to a couple hundred families a month; now it’s doubled. They also send food to home-bound seniors. 

Video: Our full interview with Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin.

Silvina Mamani started volunteering 23 years ago, and now, she’s a full-time staff member. 

She says the community center’s been a fixture in the neighborhood for more than 50 years; the building used to be a church, with services for immigrants.

“Rogers Park, I think, is the most diverse community, neighborhood. It’s changing, every time it’s changing. Sometimes we have more Latinos come, and now we have more people from the Middle East, from Africa, from Asia,” Mamani said. 

Today, the group does much more, and has kept it up since COVID-19 hit. That includes dental clinics, ESL classes, citizenship workshops, assistance for job seekers, and HIV prevention. They also offer support for those who have been domestically abused, and employees say demand for those services has also increased during the pandemic.

“They’re leaving the building with a hope, and we are here. With this time of pandemic, we are here, we are open. Through virtual classes, through distributing food, we are open, we are here for them,” Mamani said. 

Another organization helping feed the community is A Just Harvest, located right across the street from the Howard Area Community Center. 

The group has continued offering daily hot meals to anyone who wants one – albeit with some COVID-19 precautions. Instead of doing a sit-down lunch, they’re offering food to go.

“We used to do a sit-down, restaurant-style meal,” said executive director Marilyn Pagán-Banks. “We had to shift things because the pandemic, and since March we’ve used [our space] for groceries, delivery, that kind of thing, and we’re doing food to go.” 

Meanwhile, the Rogers Park Business Alliance says it’s helping the local business community in any way they can, like making them aware of webinars, new state or city COVID-19 rules, and opportunities for grants. 

Video: Our full interview with Marilyn Pagán-Banks, executive director of A Just Harvest.

“We’ve been following all the grants that are available, and making sure that we reach out to, if it’s industry-specific, to that industry, so they know what’s available to them and helping with the applications, if we get to that,” said Sandi Price, the group’s director. 

Navigating it all can be a lot, but Price says Rogers Park business owners are resilient.

That was on display at Third Coast Comics on Sheridan Road. 

Owner Terry Gant has encouraged customers to wear masks with a sign reminding them.

Wednesdays are a big day for comics fans. In comic shops nationwide, it’s when new releases are dropped. 

“I treat it like, I’m a small shop, I can be agile. You’re a human being, you can adjust. So why don’t we just bring your ability to adjust and my ability together, and get you the books that you need,” Gant said. 

Even so, Gant says due to COVID-19 and a lack of Loyola students on campus, his businesses has seen a big drop-off in foot traffic. 

So he’s gone back to how his business started: the mail-order model.

He’s planning - and hoping - to do a lot of that as the holiday shopping season kicks off. 

Rather than trying to draw customers to his store on Black Friday, the notorious shopping binge the day after Thanksgiving, Gant says for their safety and for his own, he hopes to help comic fans shop remotely. 

Rogers Park is represented on the Cook County Board by 13th District Commissioner Larry Suffredin. 

That body oversees the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, which Suffredin says is holding out in the fight against COVID-19. 

“Tonight at Stroger Hospital we still have capacity. We are working very hard to make sure our staffs are safe, that our patients are safe…at this point we are stable, and I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to deal with this next surge,” Suffredin said. 

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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