Gage Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
It sits within two ZIP codes that have consistently seen some of the highest COVID-19 positivity rates in the city.
Yet the vaccine rollout has been criticized for not reaching the Southwest Side like it has the North Side.
“There is a sense of hopelessness of being left behind as we see maps coming out showing allocation of resources to wealthier North Side neighborhoods, while folks in our community are dying at disproportionate rates,” said Antonio Santos, co-founder and executive director of the Gage Park Latinx Council. “There is this fear that the folks with access will move on from COVID and leave folks living in poverty behind to deal with it.”
Esperanza Health Centers opened a mass vaccination site on Monday in Brighton Park at Mansueto High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side. On Thursday, it vaccinated 301 people.
“The roll out from the federal level has been so chaotic that it’s been very hard to plan,” said Dan Fulwiler, president and CEO of Esperanza Health Centers, which has a pediatric center in Gage Park and four other locations across the Southwest Side.
Fulwiler said it’s difficult to know what to plan from week to week, because he doesn’t know the number of doses they will receive more than a week out.
While vaccine hesitancy may be top of mind for many right now, Fulwiler said his centers haven’t seen much of it.
“We find that as soon as we talk to them about that and spend time answering their questions which are really valid and important questions, almost all of them are willing to get the vaccine,” Fulwiler said.
Aside from the health impact, the coronavirus’s financial impact has hit the community hard, too.
“It’s been very difficult on every level. We receive requests from people all the time for things that might surprise you,” Fulwiler said. “We had a patient a couple weeks ago come to our patient emergency fund because they needed $200 to pay for a cremation.”
Food insecurity has also been a challenge throughout the pandemic in Gage Park, like in many other communities.
Video: Antonio Santos of the Gage Park Latinx Council, discusses the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to start a food distribution program.
Last March, the Gage Park Latinx Council started a weekly Wednesday food distribution. This month, in partnership with Esperanza Health Centers, the council is expanding its food distribution efforts to Thursdays with Comida es Amor. Throughout the month of February, the council plans to give away 12,000 additional pounds of food.
“Today we were able to give away 3,000 pounds of food in 15 minutes, which really speaks volumes to the need in our community,” Santos said
The council also announced a DACA scholarship in January. It will pay for 30 residents’ DACA applications, which cost $495 every two years — an expense that has been especially difficult for residents to afford during the pandemic.
“We know that over 50% of Gage Park lives at or below the poverty level, and that’s pre-pandemic,” Santos said. “With the pandemic we’ve seen job insecurity, food insecurity and that when folks can’t even figure out where their next meal is coming from a $500 application fee for DACA is really unfeasible.”