Rogers Park Community Response Team
Rogers Park Community Response Team - © City of Chicago

Rogers Park Community Response Team



Main actors

City Government, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group

Project area

Neighborhood or district


2020 - 2020

Formed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rogers Park Community Response Team (RPCRT) forged a model of grassroots volunteerism. The rapid response team brought together local government officials, community organizers, and volunteers to care for fellow neighbours impacted by the pandemic.

Responding to concerns over potential food scarcity, social isolation, and financial hardship, the RPCRT rolled out a wide range of volunteer-driven services. These included a resource telephone hotline; a delivery network for groceries, household goods, and prescription medicines; and monetary assistance for at-risk members of the community in the form of no-questions-asked hardship payments and gift cards.

Originally published by Metropolis: Participatory Governance in local Care Programs

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all agesBuild resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovationReduce inequality within and among countriesMake cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainablePromote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Chicago, United States
Size and population development
As of the 2010 census, there were 2,695,598 people with 1,045,560 households living in Chicago. Chicago is one of the United States' most densely populated major cities- with 12,750 people per square mile. More than half the population of the state of Illinois lives in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Population composition
As of the 2010 census, the racial composition of the city was: 45.0% White (31.7% non-Hispanic whites); 32.9% Black or African American; 28.9% Hispanic or Latino (of any race); 13.4% from some other race; 5.5% Asian; 2.7% from two or more races; 0.5% American Indian
Main functions
The city of Chicago covers an area of 60,000 hectares and sits 176 meters above sea level on the south-western shore of Lake Michigan. At 190km wide and 495km long, it is the 5th largest body of fresh water in the world. The city is traversed by the Chicago and Calumet rivers. Chicago’s extensive parklands include 3,000 hectares of city parks. Chicago is famed for its bold architecture, the city skyline is punctuated with many skyscapers such as the iconic John Hancock Centre, Willis Tower and the neo-gothic Tribune Tower.
Main industries / business
Chicago is a major world financial center, with the second-largest central business district in the United States and the third-largest gross metropolitan product in the United States. The city and its surrounding metropolitan area contain the third-largest labor pool in the United States with about 4.48 million workers, as of 2014. The city of Chicago hosts 12 Fortune Global 500 companies and 17 Financial Times 500 companies and three Dow 30 companies: aerospace giant Boeing, Kraft Foods and McDonald's. Additionally, tourism, education, technology, manufacturing, publishing and food processing play major roles in the city's economy.
Sources for city budget
National, State and City governments taxation revenue.
Political structure
The government of the City of Chicago is divided into executive and legislative branches. The Mayor of Chicago is the chief executive, elected by general election for a term of four years, with no term limits. The mayor appoints commissioners and other officials who oversee the various departments. As well as the mayor, Chicago's clerk and treasurer are also elected citywide.
Administrative structure
The City Council is the legislative branch and is made up of 50 aldermen, one elected from each ward in the city. The council takes official action through the passage of ordinances and resolutions and approves the city budget.

Rogers Park in Chicago is the city’s northernmost neighborhood, located 10 miles from the central business district and boasting approximately 55,000 dwellers. Although the City of Chicago is known for its stark racial segregation, Rogers Park is one of Chicago’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. According to US Census figures, in 2020, 44 percent of dwellers were White, 27 percent were Black, 19 percent of Hispanic or Latino descent, 5 percent were Asian, and 4 percent identified as another category. More than a quarter of dwellers were foreign-born, and more than one-third of dwellers spoke a language other than English at home. More than a quarter of households had incomes of less than $25,000 per year.

Among the many urban crises precipitated by COVID-19, the pandemic was foremost a crisis of care. Urban dwellers faced lockdowns, isolation, illness, changes in employment and schooling, and a significant increase in demand for care and unpaid care work — among many other challenges. As the pandemic unfolded, cities were thrust to the forefront of emergency response programs. At a time when governments enacted curfews, travel restrictions, and lockdowns to check viral transmission and ensure people’s safety, they also placed new burdens of care on historically marginalized communities.

Against this background of increased uncertainty, many cities embraced participatory governance — that is, community involvement in decision-making, from public policy development to service planning and delivery — to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Volunteers used WhatsApp to communicate and coordinate their efforts, as well as social media such as Facebook to recruit volunteers and solicit donations using the money transfer apps Venmo and PayPal. A volunteer-staffed telephone hotline offered services to those seeking assistance in English and Spanish. RPCRT also provided operators with training. Volunteer delivery drivers, recruited from Facebook and other platforms, delivered groceries to community members on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons. RPCRT also collected and distributed household goods such as cleaning supplies and clothing, toys, books, diapers and other equipment for babies and children.

RPCRT’s reach and ability to rapidly organize depended on pre-existing volunteer networks, communications systems, and financial structures used by other local organizations. Much of the initial volunteer base grew out of Protect Rogers Park, a grassroots organization formed to oppose US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on dwellers. In addition, organizers took advantage of the financial structures of Northside Community Resources, a non-profit agency that offers a range of housing, education, and youth services to Chicago’s north side communities, to collect donations.

By the end of December 2020, as the first wave of the crisis waned, RPCRT dissolved, and core members began to reorganize RPCRT’s aid services into a more permanent, central depot known as the Rogers Park Free Store. RPCRT’s remaining financial assets were donated to the Free Store, which moved first to a rent-free location in the Living Water Community Church in Rogers Park before establishing itself in a storefront on Rogers Park’s main business street. It continues to serve as a resource and distribution center for people in need of food, goods, information, and economic aid, having raised more than $70,000 since its founding. More than $54,000 of the donations was used to purchase, and make available, an array of goods for the Rogers Park community, including products used for personal hygiene, childcare, and household cleaning.

RPCRT received much of its early structural support from the office of Alderwoman Maria Hadden, an elected member of the City Council who represents the Rogers Park neighborhood. During RPCRT’s developmental stage, the alderperson’s office collaborated with local community organizers who had expertise in volunteer coordination, fundraising, and technology and communication support. Alderwoman Hadden’s background as a participatory budgeting activist and facilitator contributed to the structure of these early meetings. The advisory board, which took the lead in organizing the group’s activities, established volunteer schedules, maintained the program’s website, and oversaw fundraising and financial allocation initiatives.

Rapid formation and mobilization
Government officials, local organizers, and volunteers from Rogers Park united under emergency circumstances to form RPCRT. Adhering to social distancing and shelter-in-place measures, RPCRT initiated a broad range of community centered services.

Building on established networks and institutions
In addition to recruiting members with volunteer management and mutual aid experience, RPCRT leadership built on other community organization’s pre-existing financial structures and communication networks. These early decisions enabled RPCRT to quickly address the needs of Rogers Park dwellers.

 Adherence to participatory governance
Once resources were made available, RPCRT leadership actively sought feedback from volunteers and Rogers Park dwellers, which allowed the organization to modify and tailor the myriad services they provided. For instance, grocery packages were made culturally relevant to reflect the needs of Rogers Park’s diverse community.


Leveraging Horizontal Leadership
Distributed leadership allowed the group to respond quickly and creatively to the crisis, but also created ambiguity about responsibilities.

Diversity and representation
Volunteers noted the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity of RPCRT’s mostly white leadership did not reflect the residential community it served.

Role of local government
While the alderperson’s office was crucial to launching and initially sustaining RPCRT, local officials’ presence created tensions with volunteers who sought to build an independent mutual-aid organization.

Pandemic cycles
The efficacy of the services that RPCRT provided relied on levels of public demand and availability of community volunteers. As the COVID-19 pandemic peaked in mid-2020, residential demand and volunteer availability was high; however, by fall 2020, volunteer burnout posed a problem for a community still in need of assistance.

Building on institutional precedent and existing networks can allow programs to scale quickly. Institutional precedent — either in the form of pre-existing community organizations or government infrastructure and frameworks — enables local care programs to rapidly mobilize under emergency circumstances and overcome structural challenges more effectively.

A spectrum of participatory governance models enable tailored policy solutions. Public trust is essential for the successful implementation of local care programs. This is especially true for contexts in which the public has historically distrusted city-led programs, as well as contexts in which systemic injustices prevail.

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Jakki Mann
Melbourne , Australia

Jakki Mann

Individual | Content Curator

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