This article was originally published by the Daily Southtown on September 3, 2020
By Bill Jones
Citing an increase in COVID-19 positive cases in area communities, Aunt Martha’s health care continues to pair up with officials to hand out masks to those in underserved communities.
Raul Garza, president and CEO, said Thursday’s event in front of Aunt Martha’s Pediatric Health and Wellness Center, on Dixie Highway in Chicago Heights, was one of several his organization has held, with more than 1,000 masks given out each time.
“You’re seeing the positivity numbers go up, especially in hard-hit communities,” Garza said.
This event was co-sponsored by Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims, whose 5th District is among the regions the Illinois Department of Public Health cites as having increased COVID-19 risk, with positivity rates around 11.2%.
“People get them, use them, lose them,” Sims said. “When the weather changes, people are not going to have enough masks.”
Sims said it was a particular need with some students returning to school. The event also handed out information about responding to the 2020 census.
“We have to make sure we keep people informed about the census and get people masks,” Sims said. “Why would you pay $10 for a mask when people like Aunt Martha’s will give them to you? This is a great opportunity.”
Garza said the major difference he has seen since the onset of the pandemic is that more people are starting to wear masks, which he attributes to constant encouragement and accessibility.
“That’s the difference,” he said. “You just didn’t see it happening. Now, more are doing it. I think there’s greater willingness and greater knowledge of how necessary it is now.”
Sims’ district, which serves all or portions of Blue Island and Calumet Park at the north end to Flossmoor and Chicago Heights at the south end, also contributed masks.
“We’re just doing our part here,” said Adam Moore, Sims’ communications director, saying they had an abundance of personal protective equipment. ”This was a good opportunity to try to take care of families.”
Moore said despite the rising numbers, he thinks more people are staying home in an effort to take care of their families and keep healthy. He said Sims’ office has not seen too much pushback on mask policies.
“Even people who have had differences of opinion have been respectful,” he said.
Fatima Robles, of Sauk Village, stopped by early with her family. Robles said she already had a mask provided by her doctor, but her family has been wearing them constantly.
Many were simply visiting the site for appointments when they came across the table.
The effort on Aunt Martha’s part was made possible by the Palo Alto Networks’ COVID Relief Fund. Garza said the California-based group became aware of what Aunt Martha’s was trying to do, was inspired and wanted to help. Their fund is employee led and company matched by a multiple of four.
The efforts are scheduled to continue, and Garza said the goal is to get masks into the hands of people who need them most, regardless of whether they live in communities served by Aunt Martha’s locations. The Chicago Heights distribution was the only one that took place outside of one of the organization’s own facilities, he said.
“We’re not letting boundaries limit where we can go to help the community,” he said.
The facility also passed out literature outlining some of the medical services it offers, as well as information about COVID-19 testing sites, all in English and Spanish.
Bill Jones in a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.