Taking Care of Our Own

In the face of unprecedented disaster, our community responds with strength, compassion and generosity.

by Matt George, CEO, Children's Home Association of Illinois
Matt George, Children's Home
Matt George, Children's Home

There are still a few things that surprise me. Three months ago, I could never have envisioned a time when my children would be e-learning while my wife worked remotely alongside them; our governor would close restaurants and public spaces and order us to shelter in place; and handwashing and social distancing would became a matter of life and death. 

Yet through all of the chaos and uncertainty of the past few weeks, one thing has not shocked me: our community’s response to this unprecedented event. I wasn’t surprised because I know what this community is capable of—not just in good times or bad times—but at all times. 

We volunteer our time. We give generously. We celebrate our victories and distribute the weight when burdens become too heavy. And the truth of the matter is, while we don’t need a disaster, tragedy or pandemic to make it happen, these events do magnify our strength, compassion and generosity. 

Facing the Crisis Head-On
As I write this, I am cognizant of how community leaders and officials have faced this crisis head-on. UnityPoint and OSF have been working together with a common message. The Peoria City/County Health Department, led by Monica Hendrickson, has exemplified a tireless level of professionalism and expertise. Mayor Jim Ardis has calmly guided and reassured us. 

Our education professionals have been phenomenal as well. Dr. Sharon Kherat, Beth Crider and other superintendents have communicated openly and honestly about how learning can and will continue through an ever-changing lens. Our first responders—everyone from police officers and sheriffs’ departments to AMT and the Peoria Fire Department—have been awesome. This is not to say we’ve done everything perfectly; but from my vantage point, it’s one of the most well-coordinated efforts I have seen.

I also have to comment on the generosity of our small businesses and restaurants, who, when asked to shutter their doors, still found a way to do good. This includes people like Stefan Zeller of Avanti’s, for bringing a truckload of food to help our team at Children’s Home, and Phil Caplis, owner of Two25 and Golden Corral, who offered me over $5,000 worth of food for the kids at Youth Farm. Becky Rossman of Neighborhood House experienced similar generosity as chefs and staffers from the Peoria Civic Center, Edge, Kemp 208 and Suite Fire Grill volunteered in their kitchen and drove meals to people in need. 

These are some of the same businesses that regularly donate food, gift certificates and other support to charitable organizations year-round, and I am moved by how the community responded to this generosity by ordering takeout, buying gift cards, and promising to come back once things return to normal. 

Our Collective Backyard
Of course, at the heart of all of this are the small, yet important things many of us are doing to ease this crisis: clerks, factory workers and others showing up to stock shelves, deliver the mail and keep our infrastructure running; families checking in with each other; neighbors running to the grocery store for older neighbors; young people offering babysitting services; and citizens donating blood. We’re all tending to the issues we can in our collective “backyard” and focusing on the positive outcomes they can have.

Looking ahead one month, three months or maybe even a year from now—when things have “returned to normal”—I know the landscape of our region will look different. We will sadly and undoubtedly be missing some of the people we hold closest to our hearts. We’ll most likely be longing for a favorite dinner spot or bar that just couldn’t weather the storm. But we won’t be looking for compassion, generosity, strength or leadership—the things that bond our community together. These factors will still be there, right where they always are... because a community taking care of its own is always an essential service. PM

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