Chicagoland

Young adults helping their community hit hard by COVID-19

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Young adults helping their community hit hard by COVID-19

Iskali, a group of Latino young adults, is collecting food for community members affected by COVID-19.
Leslie Huerta, Alejandro Zapata, and Mireya Guzman from Iskali collect and assemble packages of food and other essentials at their headquarters at the Bishop John R. Manz Center in Maywood May 16, 2020. Iskali, a spiritual group for Latino young adults, launched a COVID-19 food drive and is delivering packages to people in need each weekend. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dayana Huerta from Iskali collects and assembles packages of food and essentials for those in need at their headquarters at the Bishop John R. Manz Center in Maywood May 16, 2020. Iskali, a spiritual group for Latino young adults, launched a COVID-19 food drive and is delivering packages to people in need each weekend. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When the coronavirus pandemic shut the doors of schools and churches, restaurants and gyms in mid-March, Iskali, a community of young adult Latino Catholics, was also affected, as its Bishop John R. Manz Center in Maywood also had to close.

As the weeks passed, though, something else became clear: The largely Latino community of the near west suburbs, the families from which Iskali’s members come, was being hit hard by the virus.

“The cases in Cicero and Berwyn, the infection in that area is huge,” said Vicente Del Real, Iskali’s founder and executive director. “We knew some families that were infected, and we know some of the families that were infected were going out to buy food and feeling terrible about putting other people at risk, but they had to eat. We said, ‘What are we going to do about it?’”

As of May 15, 975 people from Berwyn and 2,037 people from Cicero had tested positive for the coronavirus.

What Iskali did was start an emergency fund and begin accepting donations of food and money so that volunteers can deliver a week’s worth of food to families who have someone who has COVID-19, elderly people who are afraid to shop for themselves and some families who can’t afford food after losing income.

“It’s really tough to know that families are struggling to get food on their table,” Del Real said. “It’s tough to know they don’t want to go out, but they have to eat.”

The first deliveries were made on May 11, he said. As of May 15, there were 25 families on the list for May 18, but Del Real said he expected that number to grow, and that Iskali would have enough donations to provide food for 50 families.

“They’ll be calling up until Sunday morning,” he said.

A small group of volunteers gathers at the Bishop John R. Manz Center on Saturday mornings to receive food donations from people and businesses and pack them into family boxes, said Leslie Huerta, who has been coordinating volunteer efforts and delivery routes. Organizers make sure no volunteers have fevers and everyone wears masks and gloves, she said.

Volunteer drivers receive their routes and pick up their boxes on Sunday mornings. Each box includes food — packaged and canned goods, fresh fruit, milk and eggs — a prayer families can use to bless their meals, a resource list of free and low-cost medical clinics and masks.

Del Real and Huerta said they were pleased and surprised by the response to their call for donations, especially from area businesses.

Huerta, who is usually Iskali’s event coordinator, said people want to do something to help.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air honestly,” she said of the efforts to help. “It’s very frustrating to be at home all the time, and see loved ones and friends suffering.”

Del Real said Iskali has been livestreaming the rosary twice a day since the stay-at-home order took effect, and over the past several weeks, all 15 of its small discipleship groups began meeting over Zoom or Google Meets.

Having the ability to pray and reflect together helps, Del Real said.

“We have lost members of the community through COVID-19 already,” he said. “This week, the grandmother of one of our members died from it. People are hurting. People are afraid, and there’s depression and anxiety.”

More than 150 young adults are participating in the group’s meetings every week during the shutdown.

“We are called to be people of hope, and there are moments when we need to be that hope, not because we are better off than anyone else, but because we have faith in God,” Del Real said. “We know the Holy Spirit will show us the way.”

Food donations are accepted Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the Bishop John R. Manz Center, 1409 S. Fifth Ave., Maywood. To make a monetary donation, visit iskali.org. To ask for a food delivery, call 708-663-1153 or 708-904-1558. Iskali is seeking a refrigerator donation to store perishable food.

Topics:

  • latino
  • coronavirus

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