Riversiders pull together during the COVID-19 crisis


Homemade masks. Photo by Olivia O’Donnell.

Olivia O'Donnell, Editor

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people in Riverside have found ways to contribute to their own community. Here are three community members who worked together to help others during this crisis. 

Long time resident Amy Jacksic, whose own family was impacted by the virus, looked at others in the community who had lost their jobs to shutdowns and overall slowdowns were struggling to put food on the table. Jacksic reached out to members of the community and organized the “Riversiders in Need Fund.”

Jacksic told the Clarion that, “I started ‘Riversiders in Need’ as I was talking to my father at the beginning of the pandemic and we both agreed that people were going to be hit really hard and we talked specifically about food insecurity.  My dad then passed away very unexpectedly from COVID and I decided to work on addressing food insecurity in our community specifically because of the conversation I had with my dad before he died.”

Jacksic reached out to community members that she knew and began to provide donations. They reached out to their friends, and word about the fund spread rapidly. Initially, the fund provided Riverside Foods gift cards to community members in need who responded to Jacksic’s offer of help through the Riverside Community Facebook Page. People reached out to friends and neighbors who didn’t have internet access and to help more in need. Next, Jacksic reached out to social workers and employees of the local district schools.

“I reached out to the social workers at the District 96 schools and District 208 schools to see if they knew of any families that could use assistance, also identified people who could use financial assistance mainly using social media and word of mouth. The response from residents wanting to donate to the cause was overwhelming. It was obvious that our residents care deeply about their neighbors,”

The Fund ultimately raised $16,000 dollars, which was then converted into Riverside Foods gift cards. 

Masks were in short supply for people to do their essential shopping and for healthcare providers to do their jobs. Finding a Facebook group called Chicago Maskmakers, Riia O’Donnell found herself with plenty of time on her hands, the ability to sew, and a desire to help others. O’Donnell sewed upwards of 500 masks at her own dining room table, posted the offers on Facebook, and gave them away to families for free. In addition to giving them to families in the community, she made “higher grade,” masks for healthcare professionals. Although O’Donnell insisted that the masks were free, many community members dropped off gifts and cash compensation to offset her costs. Already working with Jacksic on the Riversiders in Need Fund, O’Donnell let community members know that even though the masks were free, all of it would go to the fund. In total O’Donnell contributed over $1,000. 

“I hope my efforts were helpful to the community. I still see people around town wearing my masks and I’m tempted to shout ‘Hey I made that!’ It makes me feel great to know I helped,” O’Donnell said. 

Riverside Foods owner Peter Boutsikakis said “Amy Jasik kicked it all off and administered it, we were simply just one part of the equation. Amy contacted me about being a hub for the gift cards for families in need, and it was an immediate ‘Yes.’ Of course, this is an amazing feat for the community, but I was honored that she would ask us, because it helps keep business local, and our focus here at Riverside Foods has been the immediate community.” 

In addition to being a part of the effort to help families in need, Riverside Foods was an essential lifeline for the community. To keep his employees safe, and to keep his doors open, Boutsikakis offered temporary leave and paid an employee who contracted COVID for 8 weeks. He also helped a few employees with hazard pay. Boutsikakis kicked up his delivery service and also started a curbside pickup system, to help ensure the safety of their customers and employees. They also hired additional high school students and college students to ramp up their delivery service, as well as investing in a new van. 

Other groups popped up around the Village to help raise money for families in need. The “Quarantunes” did “pay per view,” concerts and raised over 1,000 dollars for the fund. In a front porch fundraiser, a local photographer took socially distanced family photos and raised another 1,000 dollars for the fund. 

“It’s important that, as parents, we set the example for our kids to get involved and give back whenever they can. Our community pulled together during this outbreak. I hope we shown our kids to pull together and help as much as possible,” O’Donnell said.