Editor’s note: At Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, we intentionally celebrate ordinary people who do extraordinary things. We are especially interested in our neighbors who are making a difference as we all deal with the effects of COVID-19. Please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With schools closed, Angela Harris is technically off duty, but the first-grade teacher has been working around the clock.
She started Milwaukee Community Care and Mutual Aid to help connect residents who need support during the COVID-19 pandemic with those who are able to help.
“My initial goal was to make sure that folks would have what they need during this time,” Harris said. “I know how hard it is for folks to get connected to resources and get what they need while they’re struggling.”
Nearly 500 people responded to Harris’s initial survey that was shared on Facebook and open for less than a week, and volunteers have been sorting through the responses to figure out how they can fill gaps and provide neighbors with what they need.
“One of the major needs was non-food items that are going to become more needed by folks throughout this pandemic,” said Jane Audette, a volunteer with Milwaukee Community Care. “We had an idea to create depots where we could collect those items and become a conduit to connect them to food pantries when they needed them.”
The group is requesting donations of goods like Tylenol, soap and toiletries.
Two local churches, one on the North Side and one on the South Side, volunteered to be drop-off sites for the non-food items that volunteers will sanitize, sort and distribute to several pantries around the city.
However, after Gov. Tony Evers announced his Safer at Home order, limiting non-essential activities in Wisconsin to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, both Bethel Bethany United Church of Christ and St. Patrick’s have moved to remote donation only, using an Amazon wish list. People can purchase the items online and have them shipped directly to the churches.
In addition to the donation depots, Harris and volunteers like Audette are working to connect the people who responded to the first survey offering to help with those who have expressed needs, based on neighborhood.
For example, if someone asked for grocery delivery in one neighborhood, Harris and her team are trying to connect that person to someone who offered to grocery shop and deliver in that same neighborhood.
“We want to do that for every category, every need and every resource,” she said.
The top three concerns people brought up on the first survey were parents not being able to find or afford child care but still having to work; elderly people needing assistance getting groceries or prescriptions; and monetary aid, especially people who lost their jobs or wages from service industry shutdowns.
“They don’t have an income, and bills are still due,” Harris said of service industry employees and hourly workers. “They still have to pay rent.”
Milwaukee Community Care has opened up its next forms to continue connecting Milwaukeeans who want to help each other, but this time, the survey is broken up into two separate categories.
One survey is for people who are requesting support, and the other survey is for people who are offering to provide support or volunteer.
Harris said that she hopes to continue connecting community members throughout the pandemic, and that the relationships and supports that emerge will continue well after COVID-19 has passed.
“The thing that I want everybody to know is that this work is our shared work,” Harris said. “It is a shared responsibility. We are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain. We want to make sure that all of our chain links in our community are strong.”
The list of items Milwaukee Community Care and Mutual Aid are collecting are:
- Feminine hygiene products
- Baby wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Disinfecting wipes
- Cold / cough medications
- Cough drops
- Toilet paper
- Children’s fever reducer
- Dish soap
- Hand soap
- Laundry detergent
- Trial size toiletries
- Disposable gloves
If you want to learn more about where you can find food and meals during the COVID-19 pandemic, here is a resource list.