‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Village of Riverdale

The Village of Riverdale is in south suburban Cook County. Separated by the Calumet River, it borders the community of Riverdale in the city of Chicago. Residents say it’s a close-knit, warm community.

COVID-19 vaccination rates in the village — along with other communities in south suburban Cook County — lag behind those in other parts of the county, particularly on the north side of Cook.

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Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

Nearly 20% of Riverdale residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 14.2% have completed the vaccine series, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health. Compared to 47.9% of Cook County residents who have received at least one dose of the vaccine,and 36.6% who have completed the series as of Thursday.

A number of factors contribute to that lower vaccination rate. One is mistrust in medical institutions and health systems, said Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior public health medical officer and co-lead of CCDPH.

“There’s a certain level of hesitancy in those communities,” Rubin said. “They are mainly communities of color, African American communities that have not had easy or ready access to health care.”

Internet access to sign up for a vaccine appointment and transportation to those appointments are some other challenges in south suburban Cook County, said Dr. Lisa Green, CEO and co-founder of the Family Christian Health Center, which has a location in Harvey, near Riverdale.

“You can be what’s a 10-minute car ride here and it’s an hour and a half on public transportation,” Green said.

The center has been providing COVID-19 vaccines at its locations and hosting pop-up clinics around its communities.

Green said provider-patient relationships are a key part of getting communities vaccinated. However, because access to transportation may be an obstacle, Family Christian Health Center — along with other clinics in the area — started meeting residents where they are, in churches, schools and businesses.

“That’s why what we started doing was going out to the community,” Green said. “We realized community care wasn’t just in the building that we resided in, but it was the community, and sometimes you’ve got to move out of that space you’re in to get people to where they need to be.”

The Riverdale Park District hosted a vaccine clinic in April to help increase access to the vaccine, and the residents who participated will get their second shots this weekend. The local CVS is the community’s main vaccination site.

Riverdale Park District Board President Betty Ervin-Robinson said it’s important for residents to be able to get the vaccine in more intimate settings.

“Most people want to have it at a smaller location, not just a mass vaccination site. I think it’s more personable, they feel like, ‘I’m just not on a line somewhere getting a shot,’” Ervin-Robinson said.

In addition to the CVS, the village has been working to inform residents about vaccine availability in surrounding areas and helping them to get there. Nearby sites include Calumet Park, South Suburban College and Blue Island.

“We have been, as a community and as an administration, trying to get our residents more informed about what’s going on and get them any kind of resources we can in order to help them get vaccinated,” said Fire Chief Mick Smith.

Video: Watch our full interview with Mick Smith.

The county has made an effort to make the vaccine accessible in more locations, getting doses to providers that residents trust, said Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Village of Riverdale.

“We have to be creative in trying to do more things and make more facilities available for people to come and get this shot, I think we’re trying to do that,” Sims said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Deborah Sims.

Meanwhile, the police and fire departments in Riverdale have helped provide residents with personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic, said Police Chief David DeMik. 

When hand sanitizer was hard to come by, the police and fire departments made their own and delivered it to the community, starting with seniors. They also helped deliver food to residents who were afraid to leave their homes.

“We also worked with the chiefs from South Holland and from Dolton,” DeMik said. “If one of our departments got taken out completely, which is very easy to happen …  we would fill in and help with the other agencies.”

The pandemic also affected youth programs in Riverdale. Communities Creating Change, a nonprofit in Riverdale that provides art and STEAM programs to youth and their families, had to cut their roster in half when the pandemic hit, said Jantae Spencer, executive director. She started hosting just a few children in her home for classes because she wanted to make sure the community could still take part in her programs.

“The community doesn’t have enough educational programs, which is why my nonprofit is so important because our mission is to break generational curses, is to break that generational gap where the family is separate, now it’s child, parent, grandparent, I create programs that they can do together,” Spencer 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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