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How this South Side Activist Mounted a Community Effort to Care for Seniors

By Kevin Beerman / April 2, 2020

When the measures put in place to combat coronavirus started to ravage communities on the South Side of Chicago, Jahmal Cole didn’t hesitate to mount a response. 

Cole, founder & CEO of My Block, My Hood, My City (abbreviated MBMHMC) and a 2017 BHSI Fellow, is no stranger to supporting communities and having a deep impact while doing it. MBMHMC is one of the fastest growing organizations in Chicago. In just two years time, they’ve made an indelible impact on neighborhoods across the south sIde of the city through a powerful and fresh mixture of direct services, educational initiatives, and engaging programs. 

So it’s no surprise that as COVID-19 restructures life for Chicagoans all over, the folks at MBMHMC have launched a robust campaign to provide essential services and provisions for the most vulnerable populations. In just a matter of weeks, they have provided 500 homes with vital supplies, including 2500 pounds of rice, 2500 pounds of potatoes, 1000 pounds of beans, 1000 pounds of pasta, in addition to soap, tissues, disinfectant spray, and even a bit of chocolate. And even with limitations on gathering together to package up all of these supplies, they have managed more than 100 volunteer hours in less than two weeks.  

We got in touch with Cole to dive into this work, exploring why it matters, what it means to the community, and how we all can—and must—band together to take care of each other in these trying times. 

Chicago Ideas (CI): You all jumped in pretty much from the beginning—what made you want to put together your response?

Jahmal Cole (JC): At My Block My Hood My City we believe in taking direct action to help youth and communities in the city of Chicago. Throughout the year we work with seniors on a regular basis and when this virus basically made it a health risk to even get groceries we knew we had to step in and lend a hand. The team and our cohort of volunteers have a caring heart and this just felt like it was the best way to help those who need it most.

CI: What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced so far in coordinating your response? 

JC: There’s been two major challenges. One, there is an enormous shortage on hand sanitizer and other disinfectants as well as limitations on food items due to the virus. Whenever we had to go out and buy in bulk it has been an issue to track down a source for many of the items.

And two, it comes down to funds. Each care package can cost anywhere between $40-$50. That’s just the cost of the package. We have close to 2,000 seniors signed up and we want to help serve each and every one of them.

CI: Why is this work important? Not only to you but to communities as well?

JC: The work that we are doing is the work of being part of something bigger and better than one’s self. There is no limit to how strong a community can be. We need to be there for our seniors because they were there for us before and I know we want others to be there for us when we get to their age. 

CI: Why should the response to dire situations like this come from people who also live in that community?

JC: We have had tremendous support from all over Chicago regardless of neighborhood, age, race, religion, etc. COVID-19 is a test for many different groups but especially to Chicago as a whole. How we aid those that need it, how we each take personal responsibility toward beating this and how we bounce back will be our defining moment. People in need of this help would love nothing more than to not need it but circumstances prohibit that. They help u as much as we can and all we do is give them an extra boost to get there.

CI: What are some of the challenges you have seen people facing that others might be surprised to learn is a challenge for some people right now?

JC: Many seniors are alone and that loneliness is also a big burden on our seniors. Especially in isolation many seniors are now alone. That is why we are also connecting seniors with volunteers to do weekly wellness checkup calls. You can find all of that info here. 

CI: How can people help? How can they support the work you’re doing?

JC: Donate. That’s the best way to support the cause and keep this going for as long as we can do this. Please go to: https://www.formyblock.org/viralresponse to support our work.