Chicago Alderman Collecting Donations for Texas Migrants

At least 650 asylum-seeking migrants have arrived in Chicago since August 31. With busloads of immigrants being transported from Texas, the city’s officials are seeking volunteers and donations to help the influx of people seeking sanctuary in the city.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated that the city is coordinating with local organizations, but that they will need help to support the migrants.

Chicago has set up a website for those who want to volunteer their time or donate items such as clothing, toiletries and other necessities.

“As a welcoming city, we know Chicagoans are ready to show their generosity and are looking for ways to support these individuals,” the city’s website states.

Many Chicagoans began collecting donations for the migrants, with some aldermanic offices designated as drop-off locations for donations.

Ald. Michael D. Rodriguez, 22nd Ward, has been collecting donations and transferring them to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and other community organizations.

Carlos Gamboa, the 22nd Ward’s Chief of Staff, said that as soon as they learned that the Governor of Texas was sending migrants to Chicago, they needed to act quickly to provide resources to their people.

“It’s unfair and unjust that the Governor of Texas is shipping them to multiple cities across the United States with absolutely no resources or a plan,� Gamboa said. “We will always help someone, regardless of their immigration status. We will treat everyone equally.�

“I think that many second, third, and even fourth generation Mexican-Americans are more aware of what is going on and want to make a difference by making it easier for immigrants to go through the process because they have family who have gone through the same suffering,� Gamboa added.

Rodriguez’s ward office is accessible from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at 2500 S. St. Louis Ave in Little Village. 

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, added that when people donate to their ward, they are making a bigger difference in the community than they realize.

“It’s the most vulnerable communities doing the government’s job, which is a shame,â€� Sigcho-Lopez said. “It’s those who do not have much who help those who do not have anything, and we need support, and this needs to be the talk of Chicago, because not a single person who arrived on a bus deserves this.â€�

Local non-profits and community groups that focus on immigrant communities, such as The Resurrection Project, have also stepped in to help with donations.

Laura Mendoza, Immigration Organizer at The Resurrection Project, said they are there to help with anything from language interpretation to handing out essentials.

“We put together hygiene kits, which include items such as deodorant, shampoo, and hand sanitizer, as well as other basic necessities that people would require for themselves,â€� Mendoza said.  

“Helping them is important because they will become contributing members of our community,” Mendoza said. “We just need to give them that little push with donations to help them be steady and stable. Then they’ll be able to thrive as many other immigrants have in the past.â€�

While some organizations are accepting clothing and other essential items, The Resurrection Project only accepts monetary donations.

“We have a large team of volunteers working with the migrants to provide resources because we care,� Mendoza said. “We want to give them resources because they are important to the city of Chicago. They are human beings.�

A list of needed items can be found here.

“Chicagoans should donate because they [migrants] have nothing,â€� Gamboa said. “They didn’t ask to come here. All they want is a better life.â€�

Donations are also being collected by other members of City Council’s Latino Caucus

Donations can be dropped off at these Aldermanic Offices:

  • Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) – Ward Office, 10500 S. Ewing Ave.
  • Ald. George Cardenas (12th) – City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.
  • Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) – Ward Office, 2242 S. Damen Ave.
  • Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) – Ward Office, 2511 W. Division St.
  • Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) – Ward Office, 3559 N. Milwaukee Ave.
  • Ald. Felix Cardona, Jr. (31st) – Ward Office, 4606 W. Diversey Ave.
  • Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) – Ward Office, 3001 W. Irving Park Rd.
  • Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) – Ward Office, 2934 N. Milwaukee Ave., Unit C
  • Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) – Ward Office, 6560 N. Fullerton Ave., Suite 118-A
  • Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) – Ward Office, 5620 N. Western Ave.
  • City Clerk Anna Valencia – City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., 1st Floor


Cover Photo by Kiersten Reidford

Vanessa Lopez, Assistant News Editor of The DePaulia

Vanessa Lopez is an undergraduate journalism student with a minor in media and communication at DePaul University. She is The DePaulia’s Assistant News Wditor and NAHJ DePaul’s Membership Coordinator. Twitter: @v_lopez__

Publisher’s Note: You can read Lopez’s Spanish language version of Chicago Alderman Collecting Donations for Texas Migrants by clicking on Donde puedes ayudar a los inmigrantes llegando a Chicago.

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

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Latinos Don’t Benefit From The Economic Prosperity They Create

Latinos make solid and consistent contributions to Illinois’ population and labor force.

Were it not for Latinos, the state’s population and workforce would have contracted. The group contributed more than $97 billion to Chicago’s economy from 2010-2018, according to the recently released 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP Report.

The Forum is thrilled with the author’s details in outlining the Latino communities’ wealth-making success, driven by swift gains in human capital and a strong work ethic.

However, missing from the narrative is the Latino wealth paradox. The community continues to not benefit from the prosperity it creates.

To amplify, the data published by California Lutheran University and UCLA Health and funded by Bank of America are consistent with the Forum’s analysis of the U.S. Latino GDP.

The total economic output of Latinos in the United States was $2.6 trillion in 2018. If Latinos living in the U.S. were an independent country, the report finds that their GDP would be the eighth largest in the world. In addition, Illinois’ 2018 Latino GDP is $100.1 billion, larger than the entire economic output of the state of Hawaii. 

The importance of population growth for economic strength cannot be overstated. And it is Latinos whose numbers are among the most significant for ensuring that growth. In Illinois, for example, between 2010 and 2018, the Latino population grew annually by about 29,000, while there was an average annual decrease of about 20,000 non-Latinos. Moreover, 2020 census data shows continual Latino population growth nationally and in individual states, including Illinois. 

According to the 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP report, between 2010 and 2018, the number of Latinos in the Chicagoland area with higher education grew 2.5 times faster than non-Latinos. In addition, the Latino labor force rate averaged 4.6 percentage points higher than non-Latinos. 

All of that changed once the pandemic hit. Latinos, the racial/ethnic group most disproportionately impacted, shouldered the most COVID-caused disruptions to their socioeconomic conditions.

According to a July 2021 Pew Research report, almost half of Latinos said they or someone in their household had lost a job or wages since February 2020. The employment situation was complicated for Latinos, who were—and still are—overrepresented in jobs deemed essential (e.g., maintenance, retail, construction, and manufacturing) while simultaneously designated as high risk. 

At the same time, pandemic-induced job losses were most significant in labor sectors where Latinos are also disproportionately represented (e.g., personal care, childcare, and leisure and hospitality). As an early analysis by Latino Decisions showed, Latinos were the most likely not to have the required economic cushion to weather job loss. They found the average Latinos household has only about $600 in cash reserves. 

When it comes to housing, Latinos are overburdened with costs, and many are just one small emergency away from losing it all, as noted in last year’s Latino Policy Forum publication. 

 While the Forum joins others in celebrating the outcome of the 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP report, validating Latino economic empowerment, we raise concerns about a view that, while accurate, does not highlight the fact that the community is not getting their fair share of earnings from their contributions to the overall economic prosperity of cities, states, and nation. We look forward to updates of the report that include COID-19 years.

The pre-and post-pandemic socioeconomic conditions of Latinos remind us that we must ensure that special attention is given to the devastation that COVID has wreaked.

The Forum will continue to work with elected officials and policymakers to secure that resources directed at fixing what COVID has broken reflect the socioeconomic importance of Latinos and the severity of the damage COVID has done to them. 

While the 2022 jobs and economic data look promising – even Latinos, in large numbers, have returned to work – the reality is that Latinos have returned to low-wage jobs. They are working, but their wage does not reflect the ‘economic recovery’ that so many other groups are experiencing. As of the second quarter of 2022, among racial and ethnic groups, it is Latinos who have the lowest earned weekly income. 

The Forum will continue to advocate for equity, justice, and economic prosperity for the Latino community by focusing on the pillars of education, housing, and immigration for economic mobility.

After all, as illustrated by the report, imagine how much more economic growth Chicago, Illinois, and the country will enjoy once Latinos get total wealth equity.

Sylvia Puente is the President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, a nonprofit that works for equity, justice, and economic prosperity on behalf of Latinos in Chicago and Illinois through public-policy advocacy and analysis on issues including education, housing, and immigration.

Adding to her many accolades, Puente was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees on August 8, 2022.

Puente is frequently cited as an expert on Latino issues and has published numerous reports and articles that articulate the vital role they play in society. She is a recipient of the Ohtli Award, Mexico’s highest recognition of those serving the Mexican community outside of Mexico, and received an honorary PhD for her social justice work from Roosevelt University in 2021. She has been recognized by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics in the U.S.�

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Addressing Period Poverty

Period poverty is a global issue experienced by millions of people, especially houseless, low-income and Black and Brown communities. Still, so many are unaware of what this is. The stigmas surrounding menstruation, sexual health, and gender have all contributed to the mass dismissal of this topic as a health crisis, preventing many from recieving help.

In fact, periods are so stigmatized that many can’t even utter the word period or menstruation: it’s the cycle, that time of the month, Aunt Flo or so many other euphemisms that deflect from this naturally occurring bodily function. 

At Illinois Latino News and its sibling affiliates under the Latino News Network banner, we view our readers, you, as an extension of our newsroom. If journalism is a public service, you are our collaborators, our partners.

In covering this topic, we need your help. 

We want to know your experiences dealing with menstruation and/or period poverty to provide the most well-rounded, thorough coverage of this issue. In collecting this information, we hope to gain insight on how this issue affects those in our communities.

We hope to use the data collected from this survey to shape our storytelling and provide the answers you most want to hear.

This data will also be used to plan the final portion of this project, a digital community conversation that will provide a platform for these important discussions to take place.

Please participate in the Addressing Period Poverty Survey by following this link

The survey will also be available in Spanish in the coming weeks.


ILLN Editor, Reporter Annabel Rocha

Editor’s Note: In July, Illinois Latino News announced my participation in The Center for Health Journalism’s 2022 National Fellowship. My intention through this project is to encourage conversations about menstruation, grant a platform to those most affected by period poverty and ultimately, contribute to the destigmatization of periods. 

My introduction to this topic was published by the Center for Health Journalism.

To share any questions, comments, concerns or suggestions please contact me at

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Oases in the Desert: How Local Initiatives Battle Food Insecurity

The Go Green Fresh Community Market in Chicago’s Englewood is an oasis. With its earthy-colored signs and stalls stacked with leafy greens, the local grocery store sits at the intersection of 63rd and Racine – right in the heart of a food desert, where locals have little or no access to fresh produce. 

Food deserts, according to the USDA, are entirely man-made urban areas with a poverty rate of at least 20% and where at least a third of the population lives more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. In Chicago, food deserts make up the majority of South and West neighborhoods, prompting around 500 thousand residents to shop at local corner stores. 

A typical corner store, however, is crammed, small, and does not carry fresh food options, explains Elliot Clay, state programs director at the Illinois Environmental Council. Results of concentrated shopping at corner stores vary from health problems – obesity, diabetes, and shorter life expectancy – to social issues, where neighborhoods do not evolve, and locals drain their own neighborhoods of income, trying to access food options elsewhere. 

“Corner stores are typically the only stores residents can access without a private vehicle, “explains Sana Syed, senior director of strategic initiatives at the Inner City Muslim Association (IMAN), an organization behind Englewood’s community market. “51% of Englewood’s population does not own a car.“ This creates a 30-year life expectancy gap between Englewood – where an average resident is expected to live up to 60 years – and Streeterville, just nine miles north, where life expectancy is up to 90 years. 

“You cannot bring investment to the community without talking to the community and making sure the investment makes sense for that community.â€�

Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago

Despite the implication in the name, food deserts are not naturally the case for Chicago, Syed adds. Rather, they are a result of people’s decisions. One such decision is the announced closure of the Whole Foods Market, just two intersections away from Go Green. Less than six years ago, Whole Foods promised to bring more fresh food options to Englewood, yet Mayor Lori Lightfoot now insists that the corporation never made the right investment, to begin with: “Most Chicagoans are hard-pressed to pay, for example, $15 a pound for a piece of steak,� Lightfoot said. “To me, what it underscores — and I wasn’t here when this decision was made — you cannot bring investment to the community without talking to the community and making sure the investment makes sense for that community.�

Now IMAN is stepping in to fill in the gap meaningfully, trying to find the best-tailored approach for Englewood. At first, the organization worked directly with corner store owners, encouraging them to diversify the products and improve the aesthetics of the stores “But we could only preach that much,� Syed smiles.�At some point, these corner stores needed a viable model. They needed to see what their store could look like.� 

Since opening its doors in March 2022, the Go Green Fresh Community Market has shown what a neighborhood market can do for local vendors and consumers alike. The market carries 40 local products owned by people of color; It also offers halal, kosher, and gluten-free options for consumers with specific diets. Pre-packaged lunch options made on the spot in the deli – a rare luxury in Englewood – are hit products that vanish from shelves in an instant. 

But what’s more important, Syed says consumers finally have a local store that feels dignified to them. 

“The overwhelming reaction has been of gratitude,â€� she says, recalling how residents would leave tips at the cash register. “ It is such a heartwarming gesture if you think of it. This is a low-income neighborhood where people barely have enough to pay bills, and yet they were leaving tips.â€� 

A market – a model of a successful small business in Englewood also served as an important example of local success. Syed explains that IMAN made a conscious choice to start a business rather than a food pantry: 

“There are some pantries [serving Englewood residents],â€� she said. “But it was just the lack of confidence that business operators or corporations have around the viability of business in our neighborhood.â€� So IMAN insisted upon fostering business development. 

Helping existing businesses

Just a state away from Chicago, “Max� Kaniger also saw an opportunity in corner stores strewn across Kansas City, where countries like Jackson in Missouri and Wyandotte in Kansas, parts of which classify as food deserts.

“I realized convenience stores provide a really great infrastructure that’s already in place,â€� he recalls. In 2017 Kanger partnered with one store on May 31st and Prospect, which allowed him to bring and install a refrigerator for fresh produce. Kaniger would deliver perishable goods for it, and the store would keep some income from the sales. 

4 months of partnership and a year of analyzing its results gave way to what is now Kanbe’s Markets –  a 30,000 square-foot warehouse with six trucks going in and out, supplying 40 corner stores in the city’s Black and Brown communities with fresh goods and making sure they can store the items properly: For each store, Kanbe’s buys refrigeration, shelving, racks, and baskets. Then, it delivers fresh produce on consignment, meaning that no charges are applied to corner stores until the produce is sold. “If anything goes bad, we replace it at no cost,â€� Kaniger adds. All the corner stores have to do is sell the produce and the two sides share profits.

“With the consignment model, we make it easier for them to sell healthy foods,â€�  Kaniger says, explaining that as a supplier, Kanbe’s gets to control the quality and the price of all the food in the store. He remembers instances of severed relationships because partners inflated prices. “Just because they are the only option in a particular neighborhood doesn’t mean I want the prices to go up,â€� Kaniger concludes. The model also enables Kanbe’s to keep shelves stacked even if the product sells out quickly. 

Kanbe’s operational area starts from the northern end of the city and spans to Independence in the south. It includes Coleman Highlands and Troost Avenue, which has historically served as a divide between the city’s East and West sides – the life expectancy in East Kansas City, where Black and Brown communities reside, is 14 years less than in areas west of Troost Avenue. 

Chicago Kansas City
Total population (2021) 2,696,555 508,394
Black population 29,2% 27,7%
Hispanic/Latino population 28,6% 10,6%
% of the population living in poverty 17,3% 15,3%

In the face of a disparity like this, Kaniger’s philosophy makes sense: at Kanbe’s, nothing goes to waste. Foodsellers donate what they aren’t going to sell, and Kanbe’s volunteers come in, sorting food in terms of quality: The best quality products go to grocery stores or organizations that prepare meal kits, lower level produce makes its way to zoos, animal shelters and the rest – to compost sites.

Lessons learned

While a single market in Chicago or a single warehouse serving 70 stores in Kansas City can’t solve a city-wide problem, both enterprises are living examples of community members battling food deserts with their own means. 

“I want to make sure that if people are having to go to a convenience store to get food, it should still be the same quality that you would expect at any grocery store,� Kaniger said about his vision.

As for IMAN, the organization hopes to turn its market into a community and cultural center that will serve as a catalyst in the revitalization of Englewood. But they can’t do the work alone, without companies distributing the goods. Syed explains that as a small non-profit, the market pays higher prices on goods than big chain enterprises like Whole Foods. “This is not just a typical grocery store; this exists within a context of food injustice and food inequity. [So distributors] have a responsibility in this neighborhood,� she says, adding with a tinge of surprise simple yet sad maxim decision-makers in the food industry often forget: “People do not have to be grateful when a grocery store opens in the community.�

Irina Matchavariani is a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.

She is working with Illinois Latino News (ILLN) as part of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s (RJI) Student Innovation Fellowships program, gaining hands-on experience helping the outlets connect with their audiences.

A native of the Republic of Georgia, Irina’s experience includes working with Vox Magazine and the Columbia Missourian.

Publisher’s Notes: Please support IL Latino News’ mission to nurture young journalists. Please make a donation via Balta Enterprises, parent of ILLN, and the Latino News Network: Developing the Future of Journalism.

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Chicago Street Soccer: Unifying Communities

Free from the rules and regulations of standardized sports and true to the essence of how futbol is played around the world, street soccer is a pastime rooted in many Latinos’ childhood memories and, for some, everyday life.

This summer, Mettle Sports, in collaboration with Sterling Bay and the Chicago Park District, is hosting the Chicago Street Soccer Tour, traveling around the city and setting up free, portable soccer fields in select parks. The tour began on July 14 in Ellis Park, with stops scheduled in South Chicago, North Lawndale, and Rogers Park, among others.

Mettle Sports was founded in Evanston in 2017 as a company that provides pitches and equipment to make street soccer more accessible to underserved communities. The company works to promote the culture of street soccer by providing gated areas to practice but allowing participants to organically organize and decide how to play. 

“We see it truly as what I think a lot of the world has recognized, that they’ve become these epicenters for communities, a place for people to gather, no matter if you play soccer or just want to commune with your neighbors,â€� said Mettle Sports CEO Neal Levin, describing the communal aspect of soccer. 

Mettle became an ARCS partner with the park district, collaboratively deciding which parks to incorporate into the program based on programming, space, and community, according to Levin. In mid-July, Mettle installed the soccer pitches at Harrison Park for a two-week stint in Pilsen.

“In Pilsen, I think we have a history of being a very strong community,� said 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. “It’s meaningful to be in Harrison Park because I think a good number of our kids, our families, enjoy the game,� he continued, expressing the importance of unstructured activities like this existing in the neighborhood.

Studies suggest that physically active communities are physically and mentally healthier, have higher high school graduation rates, and lower obesity rates, which tends to be a more prevalent issue in communities of color like Pilsen.

One of the goals of the tour is to draw people outside, away from technology, to bond with others.

“The culture of street soccer has been overwhelming to bring people together that otherwise wouldn’t come together in unstructured, free play. That’s just blossomed to finding more ways that we could bring that to the people, and that’s been our mission,� said Levin.

The pitches are open for people to start their own games or even just kick the ball around. Visitors have noticed how this makes the sport more approachable. 

“It’s not competitive; it’s more recreational. So there’s a little bit of pressure off of you. You can just show up, play, enjoy the community that we kind of built right now and just have fun,� said local soccer organizer Diego Moreno.

Street soccer has no rules, and that approach to the sport was implemented into the plan of implanting these pitches into the parks. There’s no requirement to book the space ahead of time or to ask for permission to play. The pitches are accessible, unlocked, and remain on-site overnight for the duration that they are in the community.

“What’s nice too is that it’s out here; you don’t necessarily have to ask anyone to use it. You can just come out, be a part of it, and then soccer’s a very welcoming sport,� said Moreno.

It was important to Levin and Mettle Sports to keep the tour free of rules and commitments. He explained that in the United States, most soccer fields are largely built with the intention of programming. He says that Mettle approaches the sport with a conscious effort not to over-structure and give freedom to those who choose to use their amenities, regardless of age, gender, or skill level.

“There’s not a single rule to a street soccer pitch,� he said.

As summer has progressed and the pitches traveled around Chicago, their green walls have filled with the spray-painted names of the neighborhoods they’ve seen, a colorful collage symbolic of the city’s culturally rich neighborhoods. Levin said, “I think people really enjoy creating their own space. I think it’s very empowering to give ownership of how you use an amenity to the community.�

The pitches can currently be found in Field (Eugene) Park in Albany Park. The tour will conclude this fall with a tournament held at Fleet Fields from Oct. 13-16. Mettle Sports says both the Chicago Street Soccer Tour and Cup will return next summer.

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Mental Health Resources for the new school year

In a collaborative effort to equip parents with the information necessary for the upcoming school year Illinois Latino News, WBEZ, and Association House of Chicago hosted the free, virtual and bilingual event: Community Conversation: Student Mental Health in Chicago Schools on August 18. 

The online conversation brought together a variety of mental health experts and educators to discuss resources available for Chicago parents and students.

Araceli Gomez-Aldana of WBEZ moderated the event which consisted of five panelists: Myra Rodriguez, Community Health Supervisor at Association House; Dr. Tara Gill, Psychologist and Mental Health Consultant at Lurie Children’s Hospital Center for Childhood Resilience; Catherine Whitfield Martin, Principal at Charles Sumner Math and Science Academy; Brian Coleman, Counselor at Jones College Prep and President at Illinois School Counselor Association; and Lucia del Rincon Martinez, Trauma Therapist at La Rabida Children’s Hospital Chicago Child Trauma Center. 

In the weeks leading up to the event, Illinois Latino News and WBEZ shared a survey that gave the public the opportunity to engage in the conversation by telling the newsrooms exactly what they wanted to know. These responses helped develop the final structure of the Community Conversation.

According to survey responses, the mental health of students is on parents’ minds. Experts validate these concerns, with 2021 data from the CDC revealing that 37 percent of high schoolers in the U.S. reported poor mental health during the pandemic and 44 percent saying they felt persistently sad or hopeless during that year. The American Academy of Pediatrics even declared the state of adolescent mental health a national emergency

One concern shared in the survey asked how parents can know the difference between mental health issues and a child just being a child. Rodriguez said that it’s easy for parents to assume some behaviors are due to developing adolescents, especially in teenagers, but that parents should be concerned if they start to notice patterns or differences in eating or sleeping habits that are not typical for that child. 

Parents also voiced concerns with helping their children deal with stress from school and pressure from extracurricular activities. 

“I think it’s really important for parents to recognize that they can set the tone in their household based on their family values,â€� said Dr. Gill. She said it’s important to model emotional safety and healthy ways to deal with stress because children pick up on how this is dealt with at home. 

Cultural barriers can impact how mental health is addressed. 

“In the Latino community talking about mental health, disorders, illnesses, it’s still very taboo. You know, there’s a lot of these assumptions that one is weak minded or it’s all in your mind, it’s all in your brain, don’t think about it,� explained Rodriguez.

This stigma, which exists in both the Latino and Black communities, often prevents in need people from seeking resources. Dr. Gill said that it’s okay to stay true to your cultural traditions while also implementing a healthier approach to mental wellness.

The event focused on helping parents understand the resources available at the school level. Both Whitfield Martin and Coleman expressed that they’ve seen a shift in how Chicago schools treat mental health and wellness, with much more resources being available now. They said that it’s important to understand the makeup of a student’s school’s system, who the key staff members to turn to are and common language used in order to best take advantage of what’s available in each school. 

“It’s about reaching out, finding who your support players are and normalizing that trusting, collaborative relationship that’s so important,� said Coleman.

To assist in establishing this relationship with your child’s teacher, Whitfield Martin suggests being transparent about your child’s specific needs and approaches you know work best for them. For parents who feel hesitant to engage with schools due to language barriers, Coleman ensures that plenty of resources are available to help families with these needs, but that parents have to express that they want help.

“The more information that a school has, then they can meet you where you are but we have to first know where you are, which means we have to first know you,� said Coleman.

Viewers who would like to provide feedback of the event can do so in English here or in Spanish here. WBEZ has compiled a resource guide to keep students happy and healthy this school year. This list is expected to be translated and available in Spanish in the coming weeks. 

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Community Conversation: Student Mental Health

WBEZ Chicago and Illinois Latino News (ILLN) will host a second virtual Community Conversation on Thursday, August 18 at 7 pm (CST) as part of their partnership in best serving the public.

Between the pandemic, remote learning, school work and social media, Chicago students have lots to be stressed about. Ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, WBEZ and Illinois Latino News are aiming to help parents prepare to keep their kids healthy while learning. This virtual event will be built based on survey responses from Chicago parents.

COVID19 revealed inequities in healthcare, and other determinants of health among Hispanics-Latinos. ILLN and WBEZ collaborated on their first Community Conversation: Lessons Learned From the COVID-19 Pandemic in March.

Dr. Marina Del Rios, the first person in Chicago to receive the vaccine was among the guest speakers.

“There’s been an improvement, but we’re seeing a delay,� said Dr. Del Rios about getting Spanish dominant Hispanic Latinos information in their language of choice. �(It) speaks to the importance of having a diverse body of decision makers in public health in hospitals and clinics so that messaging is created we ensure it is multilingual and culturally competent.�

Hugo Balta, Publisher of ILLN, was the moderator of that event. “Now, more than ever, it is crucial for local news outlets to listen to the needs of the public they serve in helping shape the content we produce,� Balta said of the Community Conversation’s inclusive approach. �A survey ahead of the event is imperative in letting us know what issues matter most to the communities we serve.�

Community Conversation: Student Mental Health in Chicago Schools to be held on 8/18 will be built based on survey responses from Chicago parents.

Click here to fill out our back-to-school survey and let us know your questions about student mental health.

To register for the free event, click here: Community Conversation.

This virtual event will be available in both English and Spanish.

Our goal is to give you the information and resources you need to start the next school year off on the right foot!

About WBEZ Chicago

WBEZ is Chicago’s NPR news source and one of the largest and most respected public media stations in the country, serving the community with fact-based, objective news and information. WBEZ’s award-winning journalists ask tough questions, dig deep for answers and expose truths that spark change and foster understanding. In addition to its local and national news programming, WBEZ Chicago is home to a growing portfolio of popular podcasts, including the “Makingâ€� series of Making Beyoncé, Making Obama and Making Oprah; an investigative podcast series, Motive; 16 Shots: A podcast about the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald; Nerdette; and Curious City. WBEZ Chicago has a legacy of innovation as the birthplace of nationally acclaimed programs such as This American Life, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, and the ground-breaking podcast, Serial. 

About ILLN

The online news publication is one of five independent statewide coverage, Hispanic-Latino editorial focus English language news, and information websites under the ownership and leadership of nationally recognized journalist and media advocate, Hugo Balta. 

ILLN’s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to Hispanics-Latinos in Illinois – an underrepresented community in mainstream newsrooms and news coverage.

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Chicago’s Water Bill Burden

Publisher’s Note: Please participate in a short survey at the end of the story. Knowing how this story may have influenced you will help guide our future reporting...Thank you!

When Anthena Gore was a teenager, she noticed that water in her home tasted different than water at school or at her friends’ houses in the suburbs. She also noticed that other Black Chicagoans near her North Lawndale residence had a similar experience. 

Gore, an adolescent at that time, felt drawn to the natural world, especially water – “the only digestible utility we have,â€� she said that is so simple yet essential. Years later, she turned her fascination into a profession and became a programs strategist at Elevate, a nonprofit organization designing programs to bring clean and affordable heat, power, and water to vulnerable communities. 

Working with water, Gore still believes it is simple. “It’s really the system that we have built, the infrastructure we have used, and the way we have structured our communities that makes something so simple very difficult,� she says. And she knows about it first-hand too:

Gore is a co-author of City of Chicago Water Affordability Analysis, a joint report from Elevate and the Metropolitan Planning Council. According to the report, in Chicago, the water burden is not evenly distributed across households of different races or income levels. 

Photo by Chanhee Lee on Unsplash

The water bill burden is the percentage of a household’s income that goes toward paying water bills

“We saw that for Chicago’s lowest-income households, the burden is about 10%, “Gore explained. “Which is way over the 4.5% threshold that the Environmental Protection Agency set nationally.” 

Translated into more straightforward language, low-income households in Chicago have to pay a disproportionally big chunk of their income for water. Big bills result in water debt or shutoffs, leaving families without water.

Which households are the most affected? Since the household-level income data is not available, Elevate looked at the census tract and the income quintiles  – groups within the population that are compiled based on how much of their income they have left to spend freely after taxes and other deductions – to isolate small geographic regions and determine average household income in it. 

The report found that the most affected households in Chicago are on the city’s West and Soth sides – Such as Austin and Humboldt Park on the West side and Riverdale and South Deering on the far Southside – where the majority of the population is non-White. For example, the water bill burden for Black households in places like Riverdale reaches an alarming 19 percent of the household’s total annual income. In contrast, the water bill burden for majorly White families, for example, on the North Side, sits at 4 percent. Oliver Ciciora, an environmental justice organizer with the Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), attributes the disproportion to environmental racism and historical redlining of the city. 

Ciciora says investments in Black and Brown low-income communities are scarce – to the point where lack of such an essential service as transportation prevents Southsiders from accessing Downtown Chicago and its higher-paying job market. Gore agrees: “In certain places [across Illinois], the incomes have kept pace or outpaced the water expenses for households,� he says. “In many of Chicago’s southern suburbs, the incomes have not kept pace.� 

How is water billed in Chicago?

To answer why water expenses are increasing in Chicago, it is vital to understand how billing works: Each water bill includes charges for the sewer and garbage lines, fees, and additional payments. The average bill increases drastically – by $500 annually – if a household is not metered. In this case, a home gets billed once every six months, while its metered counterpart receives bills every two or three months. With significant gaps, bills are more costly, resulting in higher taxes and more frequent penalties for late payment. 

How is the City of Chicago responding?

The election campaign of now-Chicago’s-mayor Lori Lightfoot relied heavily on water-related promises. The promises came to life with varying success:

In 2019, when Lightfoot took office, around 150,000 households in the city had received shutoff orders. The same year, the mayor introduced a moratorium on water shutoffs, banning shutoffs due to non-payment. However, the pandemic prolonged the moratorium, which expired on April 1, 2022. By the end of April, the mayor re-introduced it, aiming to ban water shutoffs again, but it was voted down in May 2022. Water commissioner Andrea Cheng said at the time that the Chicago City Council generally agreed with the intent of improving water affordability. Still, it would also not be possible to implement what the ordinance required. 

Anthena Gore supports the ordinance and says water advocates are pushing to make it permanent. 

In 2019 Chicago terminated the MeterSave Program –which had installed 130,000 meters citywide since its launch in 2009 – citing concerns with lead levels in the water. In May 2022, however, Major Lightfoot pledged to resume the voluntary installation of water meters to 180,000 households without them.

Oliver Ciciora is skeptical about the initiative: “The current ordinance about metering is not concrete,� he says. “It states that the City may change the meters within 90 days, but it doesn’t say that they will install a meter into your home.�

As the metering process might prove lengthy still, Gore suggests formulating a new calculation for nonmetered households. The current formula is based on factors like the square footage of the building, the number of outputs, and others, so “bills do not reflect the actual usage of water in the household,â€� Gore adds. 

In 2020, Chicago also switched to a permanent utility billing relief program. Through the program, qualified residents of Chicago will be paying their water and sewer charges – with garbage charges not included – at a 50 percent reduced rate. In addition, after paying on time for 12 months, they will be forgiven their past water debt. 

“[Residents] can stay on the program indefinitely as long as they are income-eligible,” Gore explains. “So that helped a little bit with the non-meter issue, but it doesn’t exactly address the entire affordability challenge across the city.” Indeed, the program is limited to homeowners of single-family or 2-unit properties whose income qualification is generally 200 percent of the federal poverty level. 

Is there a better approach to water affordability?

Ciciora and his colleagues at SOUL have been working closely with their colleagues in Baltimore, Maryland, in an attempt to advocate for an equivalent of the city’s successful Water ForAll program. 

In 2015 the city of Baltimore was facing a wave of water shutoffs, where 20 thousand households were left without access to water. Advocacy groups, such as Food and Water Watch, got involved and have since been trying to change the city’s approach to water. As a result, Baltimore passed the Water Accountability and Equity Act this year – the model SOUL hopes to implement in Chicago. 

“The idea of this model is income-based water affordability,” explains Mary Grant, the Public Water for all campaign director at Food and Water Watch. The program uses a formula to calculate the maximum amount of bills a resident should pay for annual water and sewer services based on the household income percentage. The percentage can not exceed 3 percent of a household’s income and so would not burden it to the point where residents are forced to remain without water. 

Where grassroots organizations first popularized the income-based approach two decades ago, Philadelphia was the first and only city before Baltimore to pass the law in 2017. Since then, “they gave about $10 million in discounts a year, but the net cost after you account for improved bill payment patterns is $2 million,” Grant says. “So they’re actually only collecting $2 million less, even despite providing $10 million in discounts.” 

For Grant, this is evidence of improved bill payment patterns, where the city is collecting more money after assisting than it used to without it. “It’s a win-win situation for the city and the customers,” Grant adds.

Despite seemingly positive data from Philadelphia, cities have been reluctant to follow suit: In Detroit, advocates have fought for years, collecting data and generating research, but the city has not passed the law yet. Mary Grant sees this as a problem that easily translates to Chicago’s situation:

“The utility itself can be hesitant to change without good leadership, right?” She says. “You need proactive leadership and legislation to make that change.” 

“It’s really the system that we have built, the infrastructure we have used, and the way we have structured our communities that makes something so simple very difficult”

Athena Gore, Strategist, Water Programs, Elevate

Gore sees cultural factors in Chicago’s unwillingness to change: 

“The [utilities] industry has been predominantly homogeneous for half a century, with infrastructure that has not been upgraded for almost two centuries. America, in general, is at a turning point right now where once we bring everybody in, we can start from a place of justice.” She adds that affordability concerns should start with respect for every individual affected. 

Mary Grant echoes her sentiment by concluding in a clear, digestible manner – isn’t water the only digestible utility after all? – “Just providing assistance isn’t enough. You really need to meet people where they’re at, making sure they have bills that are affordable for them based on their income.”

Cover Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

Irina Matchavariani is a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.

She is working with Illinois Latino News (ILLN) as part of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s (RJI) Student Innovation Fellowships program, gaining hands-on experience helping the outlets connect with their audiences.

A native of the Republic of Georgia, Irina’s experience includes working with Vox Magazine and the Columbia Missourian.

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Gen U employees ask: “Is there a better way to work and live?”

Unions are having a comeback after years of declining influence. Employees from companies across the country are increasingly organizing to ask for more benefits, pay, and safety from their employers.

Experts say employee organizing at high-profile companies like Amazon, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and Starbucks is due to the pandemic inspiring workers to question, ‘is there another way to work and live?’ and the relationship dynamic between employers and workers.

Starbucks leads the surge of unionizations as baristas in over 200 stores across the country have filed for union elections. So far, 165 stores have won their elections, while only 26 stores have lost.

According to Fernando Vargas-Soto, a former Starbucks employee in Logan Square, the employees started thinking about unionizing back in December, when the company started rolling back some of their COVID policies despite the country’s surge of the Omicron variant at the time. He said the plastic barriers at the store’s counters were removed, and their COVID isolation pay (Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay) was reduced.

Former Starbucks employee Fernando Vargas-Soto was fired in May in what he says was a retaliatory move by Starbucks in response to his efforts to unionize the store.

“At one point, we actually had to physically get a positive test result from a clinic, at home test would not suffice,� he said. “When I got sick, I was only given five days of isolation. So I was still testing positive when I had to go back. So I was working while still testing positive.�

Workers at the Starbucks’ Loop location also struggled with the company’s COVID policies. According to Zero Muñoz, who works there, many employees had difficulty securing their sick pay from the company. Additionally, they often faced harassment from customers whenever they tried to enforce the city’s mask mandate at the time.

Another main concern baristas at Muñoz’s store had was security; staff had been asking for improvements from the company for months.

“We do not feel safe for a huge portion of the day,� Muñoz said. She added that a big trigger was how an angry customer had threatened to shoot the employees present at the store last year. According to her, management did not do anything to address their concerns about safety until after they had filed for a union election. At that point, the company assigned a security guard to her store. However, employees pointed out that the guard isn’t present all the time.

“We just wanted to feel more secure, we wanted to feel safer, and we wanted to feel better about our work environment,� Munoz said concerning why they decided to unionize.

Starbucks Accused of Anti-union Tactics 

Of those that voted to reject the union in the Chicago area, the Loop and Logan Square were among the locations.

“It’s pretty unfortunate; I definitely feel pretty frustrated and sad,� said Vargas-Soto. Their store had filed for union certification in early January, but voting didn’t happen until May. He said that he feels the long wait contributed to why their store ultimately voted against the union.

“The amount of time that we had to wait really allowed the team to feel tired,� he said. He added that during the months-long wait, anti-union workers and managers spent spreading misinformation and launching attacks on pro-union employees. The other store in Chicago that lost its elections also had a similar several-month-long wait in between their filing and their elections.

One employee was transferred to a different store without prior approval, while another had their hours cut so severely that they ultimately had to look for another job. Things came to a head when Vargas-Soto himself was fired in early May, which he says was retaliation from management for his union activities.

“I was fired because I was supposed to come in for work at 9 am, but because of the construction near my store, I had to park really far away,” he said. “I was told that the policy is if I know that I’m going to be late before my shift starts, I’m supposed to call the store to let them know that I would be late. So that’s what I did. And despite that, I was fired for being six minutes late.”

Vargas-Soto added that on previous occasions that he was late, management would single him out and reprimand or punish him despite other employees occasionally showing up to work late.

According to Workers United, Starbucks has aggressively pursued anti-union tactics against its employees and punished those who have led efforts to unionize. As a result, the union has filed more than 180 unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB’s Buffalo office has found “serious and substantial� misconduct on Starbucks’ end and has charged the company with more than 200 labor law violations.

The Barista Uprising

Before the Starbucks movement, other coffee shop employees in the city turned to unionization to address similar problems. Simon Rafet has worked for the past four months at Colectivo, a Wisconsin-based roaster and cafe chain with five Chicago-area locations. All Colectivo branches are unionized and represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBW). However, since they only unionized last year, they are still negotiating a contract.

IBW is also working to represent employees at Intelligentsia Coffee, which joined a still-growing wave of labor organizing among employees at coffee companies locally and across the U.S.

Pro-union staff at Intelligentsia’s six-city cafes and its Chicago Roasting Works warehouse in the West Loop submitted the petition in late May.

Like Starbucks employees, Rafet and his coworkers are fighting for better pay and company support.

A month ago, Rafet caught COVID from a coworker while on the job and had difficulty securing paid time off.

“I had to go beg for my PTO, and I only got 16 hours,� Rafet said.

Robert Bruno, the Director of the Labor Studies Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), believes that unionization is the best path forward for workers to secure more rights for themselves.

“They have to take it upon themselves to speak for themselves and to collectively decide the conditions upon which they work,� Bruno said, adding that he believes that as more Starbucks stores win their respective elections, other industries will be inspired to organize as well.

68 percent of Americans approve of labor unions — the highest rate since 71 percent in 1965, according to Gallup poll

Bruno said that now, the political climate is very friendly to labor movements, with President Joe Biden expressing his support for unions in recent months. Biden promised to be the “most pro-union president ever� and has been very vocal about his support for the PRO Act, which aims to make the unionization process more accessible and less bureaucratic.

Many Americans share Biden’s support for unions. A Gallup poll conducted last September showed that 68 percent of Americans approve of labor unions — the highest rate since 71 percent in 1965, reported CNBC.

Richard Bensinger, a union organizer with Starbucks Workers United and a former organizing director of the AFL-CIO, tells the cable business news channel that he believes most of the pro-union workers are in their early 20s, prompting him they are part of a “Gen U� for unions.

Gallup data from 2021 also finds that young adults ages 18 to 34 approve of unions at 77 percent.

With that being said, Bruno acknowledged that Starbucks would probably continue to crack down on its employees in the coming months.

“I think they’ll continue to fire workers; I think they’ll continue to try to intimidate workers,” he said. “That’s an unfortunate tool that employers use.

Despite all these challenges, Vargas-Soto still believes he made the right choice in pushing for a union at his Starbucks store. He now works at Colectivo and says his experience there is more positive.

Vargas-Soto has reason to be optimistic. A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in 2019, union members earned an average of 19% more than their nonunion counterparts.

“It’s night and day,” he said. “Employees are just a little bit happier,” Vargas-Soto noted that when employees are about to enter a conversation with management that feels punitive, they can discontinue the conversation and resume it later in the presence of a union representative.

“Just because we lost the election out of my (Starbucks) store doesn’t mean the fight’s over,” he said. “We’re not doing it simply because it’s a part of the moment. It’s what’s right. And when you’re doing what’s right, it doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

Raphael Hipos is a graduate student at Northwestern University with more than 2 years of experience in the media industry.

Hipos has worked with various organizations including ABS-CBN and CNN Philippines. He is skilled in the various aspects of television news production, which he studied extensively during his undergraduate education at the University of the Philippines.

You can follow him Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Publisher’s Note: Illinois Latino News (ILLN) collaborates with Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in providing students with mentoring and real work experiences. As such, ILLN is part of the professional partnerships within the Social Justice Specialization and part of Medill’s Metro Media Lab.

Cover Photo by Mason McCall:

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ILLN Opinion+: Oscar Sanchez

Welcome to another episode of Illinois Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state.

This week we spoke with Oscar Sanchez, a local activist and the Community Planning Manager of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Sanchez said that recognizing his privilege motivated him to become active in his community. He is the son of immigrants and was raised on the Southeast Side of Chicago. He saw the advantages that he had over other members of his family, including being documented and being lighter complected.

His activism work started with advocating for undocumented people, but he says he has since taken a step back from this work and now acts as an ally in order to allow more space for people within the community.

“I’ve learned that the way you uplift voices of undocumented individuals is by allowing them to know that they themselves can be their own voices, they don’t need anyone else,â€� he said. 

Much of his work focuses on environmental racism, defined as a form of systemic racism in which laws or policies place the burden of environmental hazards in areas that directly impact people of color.

Sanchez said that the most polluted areas of the city overlap with areas where people experience the most respiratory issues, most often in Black and Brown neighborhoods. He called it a byproduct of segregation and housing policies formed in the 1930’s.

In order to proactively address and take action against these issues, Sanchez stressed the importance of recognizing the intersectionality between environmental issues and other major issues marginalized communities face, including labor rights and abortion rights, because there is a deep history of people’s concerns being neglected.

“For many years we’ve been silenced, or it hasn’t even been considered something to be ‘serious’ or of a priority.� He continued, “Yes it’s complex, but it’s intersectional. That means that if we move one part, it’ll move everything else and that’s why I always talk about [how] we have to do this together.�

The Southeast Side, which runs along the Indiana border, was once a booming industrial area. According to WTTW, the U.S. Steel Industry here once employed 40,000 people but when the industry collapsed during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s mass layoffs caused the economy to shift.

Sanchez was asked why he thought his community was overlooked by the media, politicians and other Chicagoans, in which he clarified that he felt the area was neglected and compared it to “vibrant� neighborhoods like Pilsen, which face gentrification.

“People look to be in a space that’s full of joy. The Southeast Side, we can be very honest- our community members are full of joy and they’re fighting that and looking to build that… but when you come outside our community you see all this scrap metal or you see all the different types of operations here you don’t want to be around that and we don’t either.�

Sanchez has been fighting against environmental racism and injustices in his neighborhood since he was in his early twenties. He participated in a hunger strike to prevent metal scrapper General Iron from moving their operation to the Southeast Side. He also co-founded the Southwest Youth Alliance in 2018 to amplify opportunities for young people in his neighborhood.

“Youth are our living future right now and if we empower them, we give them love and we embrace them, they’re the ones that are going to create the future you need,� said Sanchez.


Southeast Environmental Task Force:
WTTW’s report on the Southeast Side:

Hunger strike against General Iron:

Southeast Youth Alliance on IG: @southeastyouthalliance

Free water quality test kits:

List of community resources:

Housing resources guide

Twitter and IG handles: oso_campeon 

Southeast Environmental Task Force

Twitter: SE_TaskForce

IG: se_taskforce

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