When she arrived at work on Monday, March 16, Maria Martinez wasn’t greeted with a “Good morning” or “How are you?” Instead, she and her colleagues at the coffee factory found themselves locked out of the building. 

Without any notice, a security guard informed them the factory closed because of the coronavirus crisis. Just like that, Maria’s only source of income was gone. 

“They don’t know when they’re going to open again,” Maria said. “I’ve tried to find another job, but there’s no place to work right now.” 

Maria is one of many Brighton Park residents who’ve had their hours cut, been temporarily laid off or permanently lost their job in recent weeks. Of 800 people surveyed in the southwest community, nearly 60 percent lost employment due to the coronavirus outbreak. This is according to a recent needs assessment conducted by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC).

“Families were already living paycheck to paycheck in Brighton Park,” said Sara Reschly, BPNC’s Director of Community Partnerships. “Even before COVID-19, there wasn’t really enough to meet the monthly bills. So now families are for sure in crisis.” 

To help nonprofits and community organizations like BPNC identify and respond to this swell in need, United Way of Metro Chicago and The Chicago Community Trust, in partnership with the City of Chicago, launched the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. 

BPNC and more than 140 other nonprofits and community organizations have received grants, totaling more than $9 million, to bring immediate relief to our neighbors. 

As we disperse this aid, we’re cognizant that everyone in the region has been affected by the coronavirus crisis, but not equally. A recent Pew Research Center study emphasizes the disparities. It found that Latinos across the country have been hit hardest by pay cuts and job loss in response to COVID-19.

Brighton Park is home to a vibrant Latinx community. Nearly half of its residents are foreign-born, and many relocated to the area from Mexico. To assess the specific impact on these residents, BPNC’s team made calls to their neighbors to check in, survey their needs and connect them to resources. Hundreds, many of whom are service workers, reported losing their jobs and said their greatest need is money to cover rent and bills. 

Quickly, BPNC began dispersing emergency cash assistance to as many families they could, prioritizing those who are unemployed and undocumented. These individuals aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits or a federal stimulus check, so it’s much harder for them to gain access to the support they need. 

To date, BPNC has dispersed direct cash assistance in $500 increments to more than 80 families, with more to come. Other families are receiving rental assistance from BPNC to help them stay in their homes. 

“We’re working very hard to come up with the money to cover these families,” Sara said. 

Maria, who lives with her daughter, received assistance to help with her rent. “They helped me pay this month’s rent,” Maria said of BPNC. “But May is already around the corner, you know. It’s not easy, honestly…I just pray this will pass.” 

As Maria’s struggle continues, BPNC’s list of neighbors in need keeps growing, too. “What’s tough is every day, we continue to get phone calls at the office,” Sara said. “We know the need is actually much more.” 

You can help support unemployed workers and their families by donating to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. Every dollar will bring relief to our neighbors impacted by the coronavirus crisis.