To help ease the ongoing needs of area residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBCIL) has awarded the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) a $20,000 grant in BCBSIL’s latest round of giving aimed at helping the helpers. The grant will support Free Store distributions of first aid items and hygiene products. BAPA partners with Turpin Cares and 19th Ward Mutual Aid to provide essential items for area families in need.
The Free Store is open on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the BAPA Community Room, 11109 S. Longwood Dr.
The Personal Hygiene and First Aid Free Store was created last spring because many other local organizations provide food, but few provide toiletries and first-aid items, which can be very expensive. Alleviating the need to buy those items can enable people to redirect their money toward rent or other necessary bills.
This grant enables BAPA and its partners to keep high demand items in stock, add seasonal items like sunscreen and bug spray, and expand Free Store offerings to include higher priced necessity items such as cleaning supplies, adult incontinence products, and baby supplies.
While BAPA and its partners continue to ask for hygiene and first aid products and monetary donations, after a year of running the Free Store, there is a better understanding of which essentials are most requested. Having funds on-hand to purchase these items in bulk will ensure people who come to the Free Store leave with what they need.
The Free Store is staffed by volunteers, and open at the same time as the 19th Ward Mutual Aid food distribution just one half block away at Morgan Park Presbyterian Church.
In response to catastrophic financial stress brought on by the pandemic, BAPA partnered with Turpin Cares and the 19th Ward Mutual Aid group to operate the two Free Stores.
Turpin Cares is a not-for-profit organization that distributes food, hygiene products, and relief items to people in need on Chicago’s South Side. Shelters are one of the main recipients of their efforts. When many shelters had to shutdown or suspend programming due to COVID-19, Turpin Cares shifted its focus to distributing goods through the Free Store model. No longer able to host in-person community events, BAPA offered up its Community Room to host the Free Store and to store donated items.
Local grassroots group, 19th Ward Mutual Aid, assembled a team of neighbors eager to help or donate as needed. With hundreds of items to giveaway available, a central accessible location secured, and a group of volunteers ready to help, the Free Store was launched.
Residents who come to the Free Store fill out a “Pick List” of which items they need. Bags are filled by volunteers, and families receive their requested items, no questions asked. The first Free Store was held on July 8, 2020, and 51 families were served and 644 items distributed that day. One month later, 102 families were served with 2,372 items distributed. The clear need for this service resulted in a continued operation and eventually expanded into the Food Free Store at the church.
In 2020, after 33 weeks of the Free Store, 21,329 items were given away to 1,294 households. The average “purchase” was 16 items.
BAPA was among 175 organizations across Illinois with missions focused on access to care, hunger, shelter and behavioral health care, and COVID-19 health education and vaccine access to receive $20,000 BCBSIL grants as part of its COVID-19 Community Collaboration Fund.
“A year into the pandemic and the health, economic and social impacts around Illinois are still great,” said Harmony Harrington, vice-president government and community relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. “We’re proud to be able to help so many organizations increase their capacity to help more people receive the help they need.”
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is committed to expanding access to quality, cost-effective health care to as many people as possible in Illinois. BCBSIL is dedicated to innovation and exploring, nurturing and activating future possibilities to make the health care system work better for our members and our communities.