Like many businesses, W & W Towing in Dixmoor has been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak that has the state — with 3,026 confirmed cases as of Friday afternoon — under a strict stay-at-home order.
“I’ve pretty much been forced to cut pay for my drivers. I can’t shut down, because our primary business is municipal, and we don’t know when something could happen,” said Early Walker, 35, of Country Club Hills, owner of the seven-year-old firm.
Meanwhile, he’d “been finding busywork for them to do, to keep them working,” he said.
At the same time, Walker, known by some on social media as “Chicago’s Secret Angel,” was moved by stories of rising food insecurity among the poor and elderly during the COVID-19 crisis, and was seeking a way to help.
That’s when Walker came up with the idea for a “Senior Relief Project.”
On Tuesday, he and his drivers began delivering care packages of food to shut-in, low-income elderly or disabled people throughout the South Side. They’re taking referrals for those in need at 1-844-485-4529; they can serve up to 200 seniors a week for the next month. Want to help? Call the same number.
“We vet, then enroll the seniors. We call them before we arrive. And we practice social distancing,” said Walker. “A lot of them say, ‘Leave it on the steps.’ And when we walk away, they’ll get it.”
His social media moniker has been an umbrella for what he terms a longstanding spiritual calling to promote random acts of kindness.
Walker posted his newest kindness effort on his Secret Angel Facebook page March 17, inviting others to contribute. The next day, Walker said, he got an unexpected response from someone offering to pay for all the groceries Walker and his drivers would deliver.
It was Eddie Vrdolyak, Jr.
Not the longtime politico — who pleaded guilty a year ago to tax evasion tied to Illinois’ $9.2 billion tobacco lawsuit settlement and is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday — but his son.
“Eddie Vrdolyak reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I heard what you guys are doing, and not only are we going to sponsor the 100 care packages you want, but we’re going to do 800 over the next four weeks’,” Walker said. “I was thrilled!”
Turns out, the law firm was in the same position: wanting to help, and needing to keep lawyers and staff busy. Law firm staff help fill the care packages four mornings a week; Walker and his drivers then head out to deliver them.
Masked and gloved, they make 50 drops a day of packages filled with bread, rice, oatmeal, Ramen noodles, canned vegetables and other non-perishable items.
There are challenges.
“We can only buy enough food for 50 people a day, because the grocery stores are literally running out of food, and they won’t sell in bulk, so the groceries might come from three stores, and where we were getting eggs for $1, now they’re $3. So we’re dealing with that as well,” said Walker.
But there’s the positive, like the roasted chickens from Haymarket Pub & Brewery.
“Like every restaurant, they’re shut down, but they found out about our initiative, so every day they’ve been giving us 50 chickens, at heavy discount, helping a good cause, and also getting some income so they don’t have to lay off their workers,” Walker said.
Walker’s other recent efforts include, just last month: buying and erecting 50 tents for 50 homeless people before an impending storm; and sponsoring the huge tribute in Englewood to U.S. Army Specialist Henry Mayfield, Jr., 23, of Hazelcrest, who was killed Jan. 5 in a terrorist attack in Kenya. Mayfield was born in Englewood.
With the outbreak spreading, and the stay-at-home order likely to last awhile, officials and nonprofits are urging folks to help with a need that is great and growing.
The city, along with Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago have launched the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund to help nonprofits reach seniors like those being served by Walker. And the state is asking residents who need social services during the crisis to visit coronavirus.Illinois.gov.
For now, Walker said he’ll continue to do his part.
“Feels good to help our neighbors,” he said, “and also to have something for my workers to do.”