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Lakeview Pantry, a nonprofit striving to meet the community’s diverse needs during the pandemic

“Queer in the Time of COVID” is a counseling group where queer people can speak and reflect on challenges they have experienced throughout the pandemic.

Gwen Drummond (left) and Marina Silva in front of Lakeview Pantry.
Gwen Drummond, left, and Marina Silva in front of Lakeview Pantry.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

When Marina Silva and Gwen Drummond were presented with the opportunity to make a positive impact through the counseling resources offered at the Lakeview Pantry, they chose to help Chicagoans whose struggles they identified with the most.

As they were brainstorming who their mental health counseling group would serve, they thought first about people affected by pandemic isolation. Then, they thought about those who were already struggling with isolation way before the pandemic began.

“Queer in the Time of COVID” is one of the latest counseling groups launched by the Lakeview Pantry that is facilitated by Silva, a bilingual therapist, and Drummond, a mental wellness intern. The closed group — which started in mid-November with plans to go through February — is offered virtually and free for queer people in need of a supportive space to speak and reflect on challenges they have experienced throughout the pandemic.

The group meets once a week and consists of an average of seven or eight people with different backgrounds and similar identities. Conversations range from pandemic loneliness to the daily struggles faced by people in the LGBTQ+ community.

“In this group, we have a wide range of people with a sea of lived experiences,” Drummond said. “Each queer person gets to see another queer life, and I hope that helps them feel more confident and secure with the fact that there is no explicit or right way to be.”

Throughout the past two years, society has seen how the pandemic has amplified social and economic disparities and problems in Chicago and throughout the country. To address those problems, nonprofit groups, like the Lakeview Pantry, are exploring new ways to meet their community’s needs.

During this holiday season, it’s important to recognize the efforts nonprofits are making as leaders in various areas, such as fighting hunger, expanding access to mental health programs and providing their LGBTQ+ staffers a platform. The Lakeview Pantry is tackling all three areas.

A community that cares

The holidays are a time to enjoy and celebrate with loved ones but can also be a time for isolation to creep up on those who don’t have other people to lean on during hard times.

Efforts like the “Queer in the Time of COVID” counseling group can go a long way to help, just by introducing people to a community that cares about them — at a time when reports of violence against LGBTQ+ individuals seem to be in the news daily.

“The most central element to our group is adding a sense of community … and trying to heal and let go of that which we can’t change,” Drummond said. “I am able to help people develop strength and resilience in the face of violence that is going to continue.”

The Windy City Times, in partnership with the Field Foundation, profiled transgender and gender non-conforming Chicagoans who have lost their lives to violence in the past decade. Some of the profiles include heart-warming interviews with family and friends sharing nice memories, while others are brief with no one to speak about who they were while they were alive.

Here is who some of them were:

Tyianna Alexander was a fan of Chicago house music, loved to dance and was described as “the life of the party.” She was also known as ​​”Barbie the Dance Diva.” Alexander, 28, was the first trans woman killed in 2021 in early January.

Tiara Banks, 24, was killed in April 2021 when she was sitting in her car in West Pullman and someone approached her and shot her multiple times. Not much was known about Banks, only that she had lost her parents and a sibling, but she still had family support throughout most of her life.

Selena Reyes-Hernandez, 37, was an artist who lived in the Marquette Park neighborhood. She was shot to death by a man on May 31, 2020, after he learned Reyes-Hernandez was transgender.

Courtney Eshay Key, 25, was a high-energy, bright and spirited person who loved to make jokes, wear colorful wigs and invite friends to cook for her. She was shot to death on Dec. 25, 2020, around the corner from her mother’s house. Key loved to spend time with her “Kors Family,” a group of LGBTQ+ friends who called each other family.

Through the counseling group, Silva hopes to connect some of her clients to other resources the Lakeview Pantry provides, such as food programs and help from housing case managers.

The Lakeview Pantry is growing to meet the needs of its community. Chicago needs that same energy of giving not just during the holidays, but in the new year as well.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.