West Side United Receives $6.9M to Respond to Pandemic

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Formed in 2017 with the goal of ending the 16-year life expectancy gap between residents of Chicago’s West Side and the Loop, West Side United focused its efforts last year on addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

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The group, a coalition of health care institutions and professionals, received $6.9 million in funding from organizations, including $5 million from the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, to respond to COVID-19.

As part of its Live Healthy Chicago initiative in partnership with the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, West Side United provided grants to 30 community-based organizations, four of which prioritized undocumented Chicagoans.

The coalition also provided to $210,000 to a dozen food pantries that saw demand spike during the pandemic, said Ayesha Jaco, executive director of West Side United.

To stem the disparity in COVID-19 deaths, Mayor Lori Lightfoot last April activated a Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, which West Side United was tapped to lead, to reach out to those in need of health care services, from symptom monitoring to testing to proactive care.

“West Side United stepped up with crafting a strategy on the best way to address disparities that already existed before and were exacerbated due to COVID-19,” Jaco said.

As part of the team’s efforts, West Side United set up eight COVID-19 testing sites and 10 mobile testing sites, distributed 13,000 meals and 130,000 masks and served more than 8,000 households, according to Jaco.

The Racial Equity Rapid Response Team secured $3.1 million in grants, and provided $155,000 in emergency rental assistance and $500,000 in emergency cash assistance, of which $120,000 went to 120 individuals who were not eligible for federal stimulus funds, according to the West Side United.

To help businesses at risk of closing amid the pandemic, West Side United provided $110,000 in grants to 11 small businesses owned by people of color, including 10 women and two immigrants, according to Jaco.

Last year, the organization distributed another $390,000 in grants to 39 businesses in nine West Side communities: West Garfield Park, Austin, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Lower West Side, Near West Side, West Town, North Lawndale and South Lawndale. 

In addition to detailing its response to COVID-19, the group on Thursday provided an annual status report including an update on its plans to build community hubs in two schools that will provide children and their families wraparound services, like job assistance for parents and family health services. The group has selected Herzl School of Excellence, located in North Lawndale, as its first such hub and will receive $135,000 for strategic planning.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]

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