This year, local non-profits have been working harder than ever to help their communities in the face of previously unthinkable challenges. Funding shortfalls intersect with greater needs, making volunteers, advocates and donors more valuable than ever.
Earlier this month, we spoke by phone with representatives from Planned Parenthood of Illinois (reproductive and sexual healthcare), Crisis Center for South Suburbia (domestic violence) and Women Employed (equity for women in the workplace) to check in, see how they are pursuing their missions and to ask how people can help in ways big and small.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois
“It won’t surprise you that the pandemic hasn’t decreased the need for reproductive healthcare services, and folks still need the comprehensive services that we provide,” explained Planned Parenthood of Illinois CEO and President Jennifer Welch, who notes that clinics across Illinois have taken precautions to ensure the safety of patients and staff. “Even before there was a mask mandate in Illinois, we offered patients a mask to wear, and our staff has been masked and shielded for months now. We’re also making sure that we don’t have as many people in the waiting room so space is increased, and appointment times are spread out. We want to make sure that we can still give everyone the compassionate, high-quality sexual and reproductive healthcare that they need – and that we’re so good at providing – but we want to do it in a way that makes everybody feel safe and cared for despite the pandemic.”
Planned Parenthood of Illinois also offers video and telehealth appointments for certain services, as well as birth control and UTI treatments through the Planned Parenthood Direct App.
Welch noted that the coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only public health crisis facing people in 2020, as systemic racism negatively impacts the health of the Black community and people of color in a number of ways.
“Maternal mortality is three times higher for Black women than it is for white women,” said Welch. “The reality of the situation is we are living through two simultaneous public health pandemics. We’re living through COVID and we’re living through the impacts of systemic racism.”
“Planned Parenthood has always tried to help address systemic racism. Right now we are very clear about standing in solidarity with protestors and Black women who are our patients and our coworkers. They’ve been putting themselves on the front lines in the fight for justice for years. As the nation is confronting the COVID pandemic, we are also focusing attention on the public health crisis that is racism. The first, worst threat to Black lives is violence from the state, from police or from policies that have oppressed Black folks or from healthcare that doesn’t meet their needs. These historic under-investments are finally being addressed and we have been working on that for years.”
How to Help Planned Parenthood of Illinois:
- Financial donations
- Cloth mask donations
- Register to vote and make a plan to cast your ballot
In 2019, the Trump administration forced Planned Parenthood out of the Title X program, a decision that resulted in six counties in central Illinois having zero Title X providers. This move caused the Illinois chapter alone to lose more than $3 million in grant funding that would otherwise help people access affordable birth control and reproductive healthcare. Donations to Planned Parenthood of Illinois help provide high-quality, comprehensive reproductive and sexual healthcare.
Cloth mask donations – which are given to Planned Parenthood patients in need of masks – are also being accepted, and Welch explained that “the single most important thing that people can do right now is register to vote, request a mail-in ballot and vote this fall.”
“Politicians all over the country are trying to separate – like they always do – reproductive health from healthcare. Abortion is healthcare. Reproductive and sexual healthcare is healthcare. Conservative politicians are always trying to make a false distinction and they’re definitely trying to use this opportunity like they use every opportunity to decrease access to care for patients, especially patients who need it the most and already have barriers to care,” said Welch. “Folks can text BOSS IL to 22422 to see if they’re registered to vote, get registered and make a pledge to vote. What we know is when people make a pledge to vote and a plan to vote, saying, ‘I will get up first thing in the morning’ or ‘I will fill that ballot out on the Tuesday three weeks before the election and mail it in or drop it off.’ When people make a plan they are more likely to follow through.”
Crisis Center for South Suburbia
“We work with 21 local police departments, and we have heard that there is an average of a 17 percent increase in the number of domestic violence calls that are coming in to those police departments,” explained Lorri Nagle, director of development for the Crisis Center for South Suburbia.
With domestic violence calls on the rise, the Tinley Park-based organization is resolute in its mission to provide outreach, prevention services, housing, counseling and more to adults and children who call the center’s 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline, 708-429-SAFE (7233). Representatives also reach out to everyone who contacts law enforcement for domestic violence.
Crisis Center for South Suburbia has been able to maintain housing for up to 18 households – the same number as pre-pandemic – by instituting health and safety guidelines at its confidential location shelter, along with offering temporary stays at a local hotel.
“One of the things I do want readers to know is our priority still remains providing services to victims of domestic violence,” said Nagle. “We have made some incredible changes supported by the CDC guidelines in order to keep our shelter safe. We are following all those CDC guidelines so I think sometimes victims during this pandemic may be afraid about going to an emergency shelter. I really want people to know that this is a safe, clean environment. We go through regular sanitation processes. We have made lots of physical changes to our building that protects and supports the clients that we have here at our emergency shelter.”
How to Help Crisis Center for South Suburbia:
- Financial donations
- Donations of sheets, pillows, comforters
- Support Neat Repeats resellers
Before the pandemic, Crisis Center for South Suburbia was able to launder and reuse sheets and other bedding in its shelter, but they now follow strict safety protocols that have them in need of lots of sheet sets, pillows and comforters, so bedding supplies are on the organization’s wishlist.
Folks can also support Crisis Center for South Suburbia by shopping at or donating to its Neat Repeats stores in Orland Park and Worth, as both locations benefit the center. When the shut-down was first implemented, both stores had to be closed, resulting in a financial loss, so monetary donations are also appreciated.
“When the resale stores were closed for a few months, we lost about $300,000 in revenue, so right now we are looking for people to donate to us. Many people are at home counting their blessings that they still have their job, that nobody is sick and everybody is well. Those are the folks we’re asking to count those blessings and consider sharing with us,” said Nagle.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, “since February 2020, women have lost over 6.1 million net jobs, accounting for 53.2% of overall net job loss since the start of the crisis.” As of August, Black women, Latinas and women with disabilities continue to experience unemployment at higher rates.
Since 1973, Women Employed has fought for women in the workforce, and the COVID-19 crisis has only amplified its mission.
“When we think about the pandemics – both COVID and racism – neither of them have changed our mission or changed our work,” explained Mary Kay Devine, senior director external affairs for Women Employed. “I think both COVID and racism as pandemics have deepened existing inequalities in our society especially for women, people of color and low-paid workers. As a result, our mission is more critical than ever. Obviously, women have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. And, the intersection of these pandemics has shined a white-hot spotlight on the issues that have been happening for years and years and years.”
Women Employed encourages people to fight for paid family medical leave, paid sick days, flexible schedules and equal pay, all of which are that much more urgent in the wake of COVID-19. The organization provides action tools and resources to empower advocacy at a city, state and federal level.
“In the state of Illinois, the fight for paid sick days for all workers is paramount. We were successful in passing a paid sick time law here in Chicago that went into effect in 2017. The argument is pretty clear, if we can do this in Chicago we can do this all across Illinois,” said Devine. “We’re fighting for paid sick time for all workers because no one should have to choose between staying home to take care of themselves or a sick child or going to work sick or losing pay or losing their job by being fired.”
How to Help Women Employed:
- Visit the Action Center to sign petitions and contact legislators about issues important to working women
- Share information on social media
- Fill out the 2020 U.S. Census by September 30
Devine explained that a popular Women Employed tag line is, “We make activism easy for busy people.” WomenEmployed.org‘s Action Center is full of easy ways to advocate for things like paid sick leave, extending supplemental unemployment and investing in higher education by signing petitions or sending emails with a simple click of the “Act Now” button.
She also knows that knowledge means power. Every tweet, post or photo shared regarding gender and racial equality in the workplace further educates the community about current rights as well as campaigns for a better future.
Along with donating time and money to support WE and working women, Devine encourages everyone to complete the Census so federal funding is properly allocated.
“It all comes back to the Census and that really does go hand in glove with the importance of voting at every single level, local, state and, the big one on the board, November 2020,” said Devine. “The very loud clock is ticking for the Census deadline of September 30. We have to have people complete their census so that we have a proper headcount, so we can receive the federal funding that we deserve along with all the other decisions.”
“Loud and clear for the people in the back: Complete your census by September 30 and then vote on November 3 like your life depends on it.”
Planned Parenthood of Illinois can be found at Plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-illinois.
Crisis Center for South Suburbia can be found at Crisisctr.org.
Women Employed can be found at Womenemployed.org.
This story was made possible by a reporting grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, in collaboration with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Polk Bros. Foundation, and the Field Foundation.