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In 2017, I felt like the world woke up. So many put their shoulder to the wheel and pushed for a better world. We marched. We protested. We formed groups and networks. We advocated and voted for better politicians and policies.

In 2020, when we realized there was a global emergency, we reached out even more to help each other. We sewed masks and delivered food and got the word out. We opened pantries and refrigerators and helped people get basics like toilet paper, menstrual supplies and underwear. I was so relieved that so many people saw the suffering I was seeing, and were equally moved to do whatever they could to put a stop to it.

Now that politics have changed and vaccines are available, It must seem like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to those of us who can keep the gas on and the mortgage or rent paid … but I’m writing to tell you that the people for whom you were advocating just a year ago see it more like the light of a train barreling down on them.

Activism, direct service, mutual aid and direct donations are drying up and shutting down. Special food pantries and programs that supported families during the pandemic are closing. Emergency shelter is very, very difficult to get. Evictions will eventually resume. The most basic necessities – food, clothing, shelter, personal safety, and basic health care – are still in short supply. We still have to work to do – and we need you.

You can see for yourself: search “Evanston, IL” on GoFundMe.com – it’s as good a barometer as any for our most disenfranchised. There are hundreds of personal fundraisers for funerals due to violence or illness, fundraisers for health care costs, fundraisers for car repairs and living expenses right here in Evanston. Look around you – are we back to seeing people sleep in the streets? Are we back to regular violence in our most vulnerable neighborhoods? Is this really a direction we want to go? It’s inexcusable to leave our neighbors outside in the cold.  

If everyone with the means in Evanston found direct ways to help people, we’d be able to solve every social problem we have.  

We can use dollars and legwork for triage, and we also need voices to speak for successful systems of fair employment and just access that allow for dignified, independent lives for everyone; not one of these things alone is sufficient – as we work, we take responsibility for broken systems that abandon our neighbors to the ravages of the wolf at their door.  

What can you do? Give as directly as possible: Help stock the local “love fridges” with food and household supplies; donate socks and underwear to Connections for the Homeless along with your unused hotel toiletries; review GoFundMe weekly or monthly and just donate to someone; check your local Facebook, Reddit and Nextdoor groups and help with ISO requests; buy gas or Ventra cards for gas for the Emergency Assistance office at the City; pass on your “free” gift cards or “cash” coupons to a school social worker; donate to direct-service organizations like ESCCA and the PEP fund and ask other local nonprofits to offer services more directly with fewer strings and requirements.

Ask questions. Find the holes in the system, and plug them up. If you aren’t connected to someone who needs help, call your school, religious institution, local hospital or alderman and ask what kind of help is most needed and can be offered most directly.

We’ve been able to see the good that we can do if we all work together: keep the momentum from these difficult last few years, and help make Evanston the place we used to think it actually was.

– Michele Hays
Back On Their Feet

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