'Our front-line heroes': How the suburbs are supporting health care workers

  • 300 pairs of goggles, 29 boxes of surgical gloves and 150 rubberized dissection aprons: Round Lake Area Unit District 116 nurse Bridget Heroff led an effort to donate those supplies to Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge. The district then gave away a second round of supplies to area nursing homes.

    300 pairs of goggles, 29 boxes of surgical gloves and 150 rubberized dissection aprons: Round Lake Area Unit District 116 nurse Bridget Heroff led an effort to donate those supplies to Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge. The district then gave away a second round of supplies to area nursing homes. Courtesy of Round Lake Area Unit District 116

  • Glenbard East High School teacher Leah Bielski, right, donates supplies to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital on Monday. "The hospital was delighted," said Bielski, who stands next to Katherine Magee, Advocate's coordinator of nursing and emergency logistics.

    Glenbard East High School teacher Leah Bielski, right, donates supplies to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital on Monday. "The hospital was delighted," said Bielski, who stands next to Katherine Magee, Advocate's coordinator of nursing and emergency logistics. Courtesy of Shahe Bagdasarian

 
 
Updated 3/26/2020 8:10 AM

Residents and community leaders are organizing meal deliveries. School districts and colleges are donating personal protective equipment. Baked goods are left at the door, and handwritten thank-you notes are placed on cars.

As the number of COVID-19 patients in Illinois increases daily, concerns abound for potential medical equipment shortages and heightened workloads for health care workers. But there's no limit to how community members are showing their support for those on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We've been receiving inquiries from everyone about ways they can help out," said Colin Dalough, manager of community and government relations for Edward-Elmhurst Health. "It really is overwhelming in the best possible way."

That philanthropic spirit has caught fire throughout the suburbs, with individual acts of kindness spiraling into communitywide efforts that also benefit local businesses, first responders and others affected by the global health crisis.

The front line

For Masha Chepov of Northbrook, her desire to give back was sparked by daily phone calls to a friend, an emergency room doctor who described the fear, stress and low morale emanating throughout the hospital.

Chepov first sent a meal as a pick-me-up. Then, realizing more could be done, she partnered with two other North Shore moms -- Irena Persky of Deerfield and Rachel Brown of Wilmette -- to coordinate hospital donation efforts through the Give InKind platform.

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Within days, hundreds have signed up to have meals, snacks and coffee delivered to six hospitals in Lake and Cook counties, Chepov said. In some cases, workplaces or friend groups are pooling money to make one large contribution, she said, noting the platform offers different levels of donating.

A similar scenario is playing out in the Naperville area, where the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Naperville Alliance have raised more than $35,000 through a GoFundMe page to send food to health care workers, police officers and firefighters.

Glenbard East High School teachers donated four face shields, 5,000 gloves, close to 100 safety goggles and at least 25 to 30 unused Tyvek gowns for medical workers to cover up their scrubs to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove this week.
Glenbard East High School teachers donated four face shields, 5,000 gloves, close to 100 safety goggles and at least 25 to 30 unused Tyvek gowns for medical workers to cover up their scrubs to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove this week. - Courtesy of Shahe Bagdasarian

"These are our front-line heroes, the first line of defense for all of us against this hideous virus," said Katie Wood, executive director of the downtown alliance. "The need is great."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The "Naperville Helps!" initiative also offers support to local restaurants that have signed up to prepare the individually packaged meals and coordinate deliveries, often at discounted rates, Wood said. And it gives community members a safe and effective way to help during the state's stay-at-home order.

Other suburban businesses and restaurants are leading the charge in their own towns. Dave Pahlke of West Dundee is organizing a communitywide effort to deliver food from Masi's Pizza in Carpentersville to Advocate Sherman Hospital employees this Friday.

Elgin resident Alyssa Hargrave started a Meal Train for the emergency room staff at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva.

"There are countless people risking their own lives right now, and their own health," Hargrave said. "Just trying to find some way to help and brighten up their day is really important."

Providing protection

The visual of her dark, empty classroom was gnawing away at Leah Bielski.

The science teacher at Glenbard East High School in Lombard had boxes of gloves waiting to go for anatomy dissections, and then the building shut down. So she hatched a plan to collect materials from the science department and donate the crucial supplies to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

An anonymous group placed thank-you notes on about 40 cars in the staff parking lot Monday at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
An anonymous group placed thank-you notes on about 40 cars in the staff parking lot Monday at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. - COURTESY NORTHWESTERN MEDICINE LAKE FOREST HOSPITAL

East alumna Katherine Magee, a coordinator of nursing and emergency logistics at Advocate, was "ecstatic" to see four face shields among the donations from the school this week. Bielski and her colleagues also gave away 5,000 gloves, nearly 100 safety goggles and 25 to 30 unused Tyvek gowns.

"(Magee) asked me, 'Do I need to come out with a box or what?' And I said, 'You need a cart,'" Bielski said.

All four campuses in Glenbard High School District 87 are now sharing supplies with medical workers and first responders. And other schools and agencies throughout the suburbs have been pooling their resources together for the coronavirus response.

Elgin Community College faculty and administrators cleared the supplies out of classrooms and labs and "gave everything we had" to Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, said Donna Boyce, manager of the nursing simulation center.
Elgin Community College faculty and administrators cleared the supplies out of classrooms and labs and "gave everything we had" to Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, said Donna Boyce, manager of the nursing simulation center. - Courtesy of Elgin Community College

Round Lake Area Unit District 116, which already donated to Advocate's Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, provided a second round of supplies to senior living facilities. The Vernon Area Public Library sent over protective gear to first responders in Buffalo Grove and Lincolnshire.

At Elgin Community College, staff members and administrators cleared their health and science labs, filled three cars full of supplies and "gave everything we had" to Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, said Donna Boyce, manager of the nursing simulation center. Similar efforts were organized by the College of Lake County and Wheaton College, which then donated the supplies -- including hundreds of N95 masks -- to nearby hospitals.

Employees of the Allegory restaurant in Naperville prepare more than 70 lunches Wednesday to be delivered to health care workers and first responders as part of a communitywide coronavirus relief effort.
Employees of the Allegory restaurant in Naperville prepare more than 70 lunches Wednesday to be delivered to health care workers and first responders as part of a communitywide coronavirus relief effort. - Courtesy of the Downtown Naperville Alliance

"It was an instant reaction," Boyce said. "We're just really thrilled to be able to help our community in these tough times."

For the families of the Ray Chinese School in Lisle, coordinating relief efforts served as a way to counter blame and ill will expressed toward Chinese Americans because the coronavirus was first detected in China, said Jie Su, chairman of the board of directors.

Since last week, the nonprofit raised about $25,000 to buy gear for medical workers. About 4,000 nonsurgical masks, 2,500 N95 respirator masks and 384 face shields are expected to be delivered Friday to Edward Hospital in Naperville and the DuPage Medical Group's headquarters in Glen Ellyn.

"We want to express to the local community that Chinese Americans are doing their best to help out," Su said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Katlyn Smith and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

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