$5 Million Oprah Winfrey Grant Accelerates Rush, Chicago COVID-19 Prevention Efforts on West, South Sides

This donation will accelerate efforts to decrease COVID-19 death rates in Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities
Oprah Winfrey

A $5 million donation from the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation will accelerate efforts to decrease the COVID-19 death rates in Chicago’s predominantly black and Latino communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic compared to white Chicagoans, while also strengthening longer-term efforts to address the root causes of this health inequity. 

The gift will fund the efforts of Live Healthy Chicago, a Chicago collaborative that assists older adults and other high-risk populations in the city who are experiencing disparities in COVID-19’s impact. Live Healthy Chicago was launched in April by local organizations West Side United, Rush University Medical Center, the MAAFA Redemption Project, My Block My Hood My City and Forty Acres Fresh Market. 

Live Healthy Chicago's efforts complement, and will be coordinated with, the work done by Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot's Racial Equity Rapid Response Team. The city of Chicago created the Rapid Response Team in partnership with West Side United in response to data showing that black and Latino Chicagoans die from COVID-19 at a much higher rate than white Chicagoans.

"The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation's investment in Live Healthy Chicago accelerates our work to not just fight this virus, but also to address the underlying reasons why it is taking so many black and brown lives,” said Ayesha Jaco, executive director, West Side United. 

“This gift from the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation will provide vital support to amplify both the work of the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team and Chicago’s communities more broadly,” Lightfoot said. “The city of Chicago will not stand by as COVID-19 continues to disproportionately impact members of Chicago’s black and brown communities, and we are proud to partner with West Side United to address this head on.”

Each of the organizations in Live Healthy Chicago has been working to provide these communities with the resources, tools and information needed to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This investment, and Lightfoot’s leadership, will energize and galvanize the work, according to Jaco.

“The intensity and impact of this global pandemic has mobilized people and organizations on every block in Chicago,” Jaco said. “But this crisis calls for an urgent, forceful and unified effort like never before, and we’re proud to help be part of that solution.”

Over the next two years, Live Healthy Chicago’s COVID-19-focused effort will be organized into the following four areas

  • Prevention: Groups involved in the initiative will distribute senior wellness kits to older adults in disproportionately affected communities who may feel isolated by COVID-19 social distancing efforts. They also will distribute masks and other personal protective equipment needed to prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus.
  • Education: Members of the initiative will hire, train and deploy youth and adult community health workers to conduct wellness checks for particularly vulnerable groups. This work will expand upon a certificate program Rush University Medical Center developed with Malcolm X College, adding content specific to COVID-19 and older adults to the curriculum.
  • Meal delivery: Live Healthy Chicago organizations will prepare and deliver thousands of healthy meals to families suffering from the economic impact of the pandemic.
  • Testing and treatment: Overseen by Rush University Medical Center, Live Healthy Chicago organizations will develop training for and then implement contact tracing (identifying individuals who recently had contact with a newly diagnosed person with COVID-19 and notifying them of their possible infection with the virus that causes the disease). The program’s processes and protocols will combine public health best practices with cultural competencies specific to West Side communities. 

“Even when the virus is gone, the devastation left by people not being able to work for months who were holding on paycheck to paycheck, who have used up their savings — people are going to be in need,” Winfrey said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So my thing is, look in your own neighborhood, in your own backyard to see how you can serve and where your service is most essential.

“What this pandemic has done is made me think about giving differently. How I give and who’s on the receiving end of that, and how do you do that in such a way that sustains people?”

Marshall Hatch Jr, executive director of the West Garfield Park–based MAAFA Redemption Project, noted that while these actions initially may be focused on reducing COVID-19 deaths on Chicago’s West and South Sides, the impact should extend long after this pandemic ends. 

“Ms. Winfrey’s gift is a blessing to neighborhoods like ours; it’s also a call to action,” he said. “For too long, West Garfield Park residents have witnessed divestment and indifference.

“This kind of investment shows that we have not been forgotten, even in a global pandemic. Our seniors are worthy of attention and care; our youth deserve health and wellness. Perhaps now others will see the meaning and value of our lives.”

About Live Healthy Chicago’s Members and the city of Chicago’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Team

West Side United (WSU) was formed in 2017 when West Side residents, health care institutions, nonprofits, businesses, government agencies and faith communities came together to make their neighborhoods stronger, healthier and more vibrant places to live. The group’s goal is to reduce by 50 percent by 2030 the 16-year life expectancy gap between Chicago’s wealthy downtown Loop neighborhood and West Side neighborhoods.

Rush University Medical Center serves as WSU’s fiscal agent and is one of six hospital partners driving the collaborative, along with more than 50 technical and community partners. Leaders from Rush’s Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement co-led the city’s effort to manage COVID-19 testing, treatment, and safe shelter for Chicago’s homeless population. Rush research programs also are providing data analytics for a city-wide COVID-19 data exchange for the City of Chicago. 

Forty Acres Fresh Market is a startup grocer that was founded in response to the lack of fresh food options on Chicago's West Side. The market operated as a mobile grocery store and hosted pop-up markets in underserved communities prior to the pandemic. It currently offers online grocery ordering and grocery delivery.

MAAFA Redemption Project is a ministry of New Mount Pilgrim Church. The Redemption Project improves the quality of life for black and brown families by providing housing and spiritual social services support to young men of color 18 to 30 years of age.

My Block, My Hood, My City is based on the South Side but serves communities across the city by providing underprivileged youth with an awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhood.

The city of Chicago’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Team is a data-powered, community-based, and community-driven mitigation strategy aimed at combating the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black and brown Chicago communities. Led by Candace Moore, the city’s first chief equity officer, and Sybil Madison, PhD, the city’s deputy mayor for education and human services, RERRT develops hyperlocal, data-informed strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19 and improve health outcomes among the communities that have been most heavily impacted.

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