In what already seems like a lifetime ago but was actually spring of 2020, signs started popping up on Evanston lawns like May dandelions, encouraging people to “remember essential workers.”

Some of the signs had cheery drawings illustrating the coterie of people who were indispensable and working through the early and most frightening days of the pandemic to keep us healthy and whole. They were workers in grocery stores, public transportation, agriculture, health care, food service, day care, schools, police and fire departments, nursing homes, retail and other critical sectors of the economy.

Guess what? They’re still out there, they’re still working and they’re still indispensable. Fortunately, they haven’t gone away. Unfortunately, when you look at the occupations that qualify, you realize these essential people are hurting themselves.

Will Skeaff sends a thank-you to health care workers. (Submitted photo)

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Studies show that much of the essential work in our communities is performed by low-wage workers, and most often by women, immigrants and people of color. Women make up the majority of essential workers in health care, and people of color make up the majority of essential workers in food service and agriculture as well as in industrial, commercial, and residential facilities and services. And by some accounts, essential workers make up more than half of all workers in low-wage occupations.”

All of which suggests that in this second consecutive COVID-19 holiday season, we still need to be mindful of and reach out to essential workers to show them our gratitude.

There are lots of ways to do that – a kind word, personal letter, phone call, even a pandemic-safe hug – but few things show gratitude more (and are more needed) than cash. Put a few bucks (or a ten or twenty if you can) in some envelopes and dispense them to your mail carrier, grocery store cashier, UPS and FedEx delivery driver, Streetwise vendor, and/or any of the other essential people in your life. Add a simple note that says, “You’re still essential and we appreciate everything you do.”

It may not mean much, but it says one thing: We still remember that without you, we couldn’t make it.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...

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