Social interactions form the basis of our families, our governments and even our global economy. Evanstonians are finding new and creative ways to maintain and strengthen the social fabric of our community even as we implement social distancing to help stem the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Experts are in agreement that staying home as much as possible will save lives. Local organizations, institutions, businesses and individuals are taking actions to ensure that we can maintain a physical distance while remaining socially and emotionally connected to family, friends and services.

Retired educator and community activist Oliver Ruff has long made it a point to perform kind acts for Evanston’s senior citizens, who are at increased risk for the virus.

“Seniors are already compromised. Look out for seniors in all settings. Those thoughts in this critical time bode great appreciation and rewards for them and for yourself. People feel better when they’re helping others,” said Mr. Ruff.

A senior citizen himself, Mr. Ruff said he was deeply touched when a neighbor recently reached out to check on his well-being.

“I got an email from a person who lives a block over who asked me if there’s anything he could do for my wife Emma and I so we wouldn’t have to go out. I’m going to call him to let him know how appreciative I am. That’s critical. Those kinds of acts of generosity, consideration and caring – those things are what we as Americans should be about – whether we are not or not,” said Mr. Ruff.

Acts of kindness such as picking up groceries for seniors and those with underlying conditions also mitigate community transmission of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed that actions on the part of persons and communities can dramatically slow the spread of disease and protect community health care systems. Evanston is implementing strategies that will help change the course of the coronavirus outbreak.

Evanston schools mobilized to provide free breakfast and lunch to all youth ages 1-18 at locations throughout the city when school closures were announced.

Digital learning is now in place to keep students engaged and learning from home.

Amid the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus, Evanston residents are leveraging technology to help ensure the well being of all ages, and to maintain the strong sense of community that has long been a source of pride for Evanstonians.

The speed of online information flow makes it possible for our community leaders to communicate vital information early and often. Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s declaration of a local state of emergency was informative and reassuring, despite the gravity of the message. Read the mayor’s message at

E-mail and social media make it easier for organizations and community members to quickly receive and share helpful information. One example among many is an electronic newsletter from the Kingsley Elementary School PTA, which was compassionate, heartwarming and full of resources for parents and caregivers of school-age children.

The newsletter includes information for obtaining free meals for students and links to Facebook groups such as Evanston Area COVID-19 Community Support and E-town E-learning, which helps families navigate online learning. There is also an online form from the ETHS Student Union, which connects families with student babysitters. and a link to Comcast’s Internet Essentials, offering new customers two free months of Internet Service, available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month plus tax.

Local businesses continue to give back to the Evanston community, even after they have had to temporarily close their doors to help protect public health.

Evanston small business owner Dawn Okamoto of Secret Treasures Antiques & Collectibles contributes regularly to Soup at Six, Evanston’s oldest soup kitchen. Julie Cowan, volunteer manager at Soup at Six, said that Ms. Okamoto continues to be very generous.

“She just contacted me and is going to buy a bunch of granola bars and snacks for handing out on Tuesday evening. She is a wonderful person and business owner here in Evanston,” Ms. Cowan told the RoundTable.

Although most Evanstonians are now working remotely, we are working together more than ever.

Evanston-wide community resources such as Evanston Aid serve as a hub to connect people with resources during the COVID-19 outbreak. For more information, go to

The YWCA Evanston/North Shore will continue essential domestic violence services and shelter to keep women and children safe from abuse. Most staff will be able to work remotely and will be available to respond to voicemail and email. Public events and programs have been postponed or cancelled and the building is closed March 15-April 3.

Seniors enrolled in the congregate meal program at the Levy Center or Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center will be able to pick up their lunches but must call and request to pick up a lunch or request to allow someone else to pick up their lunch for them. Seniors at Fleetwood-Jourdain will be able to pick up their meals on Wednesday as well. Meals cannot be eaten at the centers.

The Moran Center for Youth Advocacy has instituted flexible workplace policies effective immediately until April 13. The infrastructure already in place allows staff to maintain their critical responsibilities outside of the office. Clients and community members are urged to call the Moran Center at 847-492-1410 with any inquiries, given that attorneys and social workers will be able to respond remotely, The Moran Center aks anyone who does not have an appointment not to visit the office.

Clients of the Moran Center who are having trouble accessing remote learning due to a disability or financial resources are encouraged to contact the Moran Center for assistance by phone or email. The U.S. Department of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education  have statements regarding individual rights and the obligations of  local educational systems to accommodate children’s educational needs during the school closure period. 

Although all Library locations will be closed through at least April 12, the Library’s digital library and research resources are available 24 hours a day at and through the Evanston Public Library app. Those with specific questions for librarians can find email or instant messaging options at Staff will be monitoring their email. Any materials checked out from the Library will have a new due date of April 13. All late fees will be suspended and due dates extended during the closure period. Bookdrops will be open at the Main Library, the North Branch and the Chicago Avenue/Main Street Branch.

“Grab-and-Go” Breakfasts and Lunches will be Available for Youth 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free, cold breakfasts and lunches will be available for youth ages 1 to 18 years old.

While this week the breakfasts and lunches were available each day, starting Monday, March 23,  meals will be distributed on Mondays only, but youth can pick up five days’ of meals at once. There are no income-based restrictions to participate in the program. Youth may pick up both breakfast and lunch between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the following locations:  Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St.; Robert Crown Community Center, 1801 Main St.; Kamen Park East Fieldhouse, 1115 South Blvd.; and Mason Park, Church Street and Florence.

Public Safety and Public Works: Police, Fire and 911 Dispatch services will continue to operate as normal. In addition, the City’s 311 Service Center will be open for normal hours, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents can contact 311 by calling/texting 847-448-4311, online at, or using the Evanston 311 mobile app.

Public Works services, including street cleaning and refuse collection, will continue as normal. While the community centers are closed, the City has said staff will be available to answer phone calls and emails at the Levy Senior Center and other affected community centers.

On the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 are healthcare workers. In addition to protecting our most vulnerable populations, local strategies to slow the transmission of the disease will protect our healthcare and critical infrastructure workforces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent source of information about how we can help control the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus. Please visit Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities.  For general questions about COVID-19, call the hotline at 1-800-889-3931 or email

The Illinois Department of Public Health is another vital source of information. Please visit their site at

Our choices as individuals will collectively impact what will happen in the coming days and weeks as we each do our part to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and make homes, schools and work places safer.

“We’re all in this together.” – Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director General.

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.