Like many people going through their daily routine, I left work on March 12th not realizing what was coming next. I just finished another successful monthly book club meeting and I was looking forward to a weekend road trip with the girls. It was planned six months previous and we were all excited to get away and enjoy Nashville. Little did I know that my last normal work week had just ended and the world was going to screech to a halt indefinitely.
Up until this point, COVID-19 was being taken semi seriously by everyone around me as far as no physical contact, maintain some distance and wash and sanitize your hands frequently, but it wasn't panic-inducing, must stock up on toilet paper, everyone shelter in place pandemic we are experiencing today. I was paranoid enough to stock up on extra sanitizer and toilet paper for our trip and spent the weekend monitoring the news and slowly starting to panic as one alert after another started coming through of libraries closing indefinitely.
Fast forward to today and to how my life has changed. Within the first week, call after call started coming into our library about people out of work and needing help with unemployment.These people were not just from Chicago Ridge, these calls were coming in from all over Illinois. My director managed to get an app installed within the first 48 hours so that we can answer the calls at home. We quickly adapted to a virtual library system and started providing all sorts of activities and programs online. Storytime and crafts went virtual. My ESL class went virtual as well and has been successful.
But the most rewarding work I have done was help our patrons get the help they need financially. A patron I would help would tell another patron that there was a woman named Eva helping with IDES and PUA applications who speaks Arabic and I somehow became the go-to person for the Middle Eastern community. But it wasn’t just specifically minority groups. So many people who are uncomfortable using a computer, or who have no access to the internet also reached out. I would call them on the library app, create accounts for them and file on their behalf. I had to be creative in ways to work around having their taxes and proof of identity sent to me so I can upload them. Some had to take pictures and have relatives email it to me for instance. It was exhausting and challenging work but so rewarding.
I have had days where I lost my voice from talking for eight hours a day, but getting the follow up phone calls from grateful, teary patrons ecstatic that they have received the funds to help them pay their bills, feed their children, and keep a roof over their heads was worth it. Not only have I gotten to know countless families on a more personal level, but I have felt the love in our community as a whole.
People now fully understand the power and the need for libraries to continue existing. I have been added on countless prayer lists from people I have never met in person. It brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me daily that I am helping people and that this is my calling. And I thank my Director Dana Wishnick and my Department Manager Alicia Jackson in making it possible for me to do what is vital and necessary in a time that is so uncertain.
Our guest blogger today is Eva Baggili. Eva is the Adult Reference Librarian at Chicago Ridge Public Library. Chicago Ridge Public Library was featured in the June 2020 issue of American Libraries Magazine for their quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic.