7-year-old Lombard girl providing masks for the homeless, with an even bigger goal in mind
Two things happened during the stay-at-home order that transformed Olivia Dru Tyler's desire to help homeless people from what her mom calls "kid talk" into a fledgling nonprofit handing out masks and raising money toward a bigger goal.
Olivia, 7, said she has wanted to help the homeless since she was 5 or 6, especially after learning her father's story of experiencing homelessness when he was a teenager in Minnesota.
Her parents, Andrew and Linda Tyler, say Olivia started about a year ago wanting to give money or help whenever she saw homeless people. She also began dreaming of establishing some type of hotel where homeless people could come and go as they please, a place with a welcoming sign and a playground for kids.
"It's not very right for people to be homeless, because they get treated badly a lot of the time," Olivia said. "Everyone should be able to have a home, including homeless people."
Olivia's mother said she hadn't put a lot of energy into her daughter's ideas until the COVID-19 pandemic began and everyone was required to shelter at home.
When the family took walks around their Lombard neighborhood, Olivia often would ask if they could buy the houses they'd see for sale and let homeless people stay there. Then Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced face coverings would be required in indoor public places beginning May 1, and Olivia asked, "How will the homeless get covered?"
"Then I was like, 'OK, I need to pay attention to this,'" her mother said.
Paying attention meant taking action, using masks as both a vehicle to raise money for the more challenging goal of a homeless hotel and as an immediate way to help people in need follow public health guidelines.
Olivia and her mother searched online, finding a supplier of bandanna masks and ordering en masse. Linda Tyler, recently let go from her job in medical association fundraising, set up a board of directors and applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
Then OliviaDruCares, the name of the charity, started selling masks online for $5 at https://www.oliviadrucares.com/. For each mask the charity sells, it donates one to the homeless.
The colorful bandanna masks feature Christian sayings, a natural for a family that worships at DuPage AME Church in Lisle.
OliviaDruCares has given roughly 820 free masks to organizations including DuPagePads, the Salvation Army, Pacific Garden Mission and a Native American group in Omaha, Nebraska, where Linda Tyler grew up and has relatives. Olivia and her family keep fresh masks with them wherever they go and hand them out to essential workers or others they see without a face covering.
"Having a mask is the best choice right now," Olivia said.
Olivia, an only child growing up in a sprawling neighborhood with a school around the corner, is seemingly in a world far away from homelessness, said her father, who runs his own digital media and film company. But the pandemic has shown how so many in the suburbs are really only a paycheck away from falling into poverty or losing their homes, he said.
"Her genius, in my mind, is being 7 years old and having a heart for other people," Andrew Tyler said. "If a 7-year-old is concerned about people in the world, we need to get on board."