Every Thursday evening for the past four weeks, a group of neighborly Oak Parkers have been passing out personal care and toiletry products to members of the Austin community in need from outside Taco Bros restaurant on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Austin Boulevard.
The popup pantry is the brainchild of London Black, a social work graduate student, who saw several Austin businesses looted following the death of George Floyd.
“I noticed that a lot of convenience stores had been destroyed,” said Black, who lives in Oak Park but grew up in Austin, where she now works.
Without convenience stores, Black realized, Austin residents had lost access to such necessities as soap, toothpaste, diapers and more. She took to social media to spread awareness.
“I put up a Facebook post, and I said, ‘If you’re in for helping, please let me know,'” she said.
Over 90 people responded to the Facebook post alone, offering to donate items and help distribute. Within a few hours, people were dropping supplies off at Black’s home.
“People have also sent money, so I’ve been using that money to replenish the things that we run out of,” she said.
According to Black, diapers and baby formula go very quickly, as does soap and body wash.
“I run out of toiletries every week,” she said.
Other popup popular items include cold water and face masks to protect people against contracting COVID-19. The volunteer distributors also wear masks and gloves.
Black expected the popup to last only while convenience stores were closed, but the popup maintains a steady flow of partakers each week.
“It’s just helpful to have a load taken off, to have your expenses reduced by just a little bit,” she said.
Two of the popup’s biggest helpers are Black’s young children; her son and daughter distribute supplies alongside the adults.
“They enjoy it and I enjoy having them there,” she said.
The popup has accumulated enough supplies to keep it operating at least through the middle of July.
While she came up with the idea, Black credits those who gave their time and assistance to support Oak Park’s neighbors to the east.
“It’s been a success because so many people have been willing to help and chip in,” she said. “It shows how big of a difference we can make if we all work together.”