The volunteer crew for the spontaneous McKinley Park Community Cleanup event on Thursday, June 4, includes, from left, local residents Vicky Rodriguez, Kasandra Negrete, Rosa Gallagher, Lizz Wallace, David Wolf and Ruby Negrete.

McKinley Park Rallies for Defense, Cleanup and Support of Neighborhood

Published June 5, 2020

Residents throughout the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago have spontaneously extended themselves into mutual community aid efforts that range from deterring looters to providing food and medicine for needy local families.

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Dovetailing off both the COVID-19 pandemic and the public protest and civic unrest arising from the police slaying of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, the neighborhood's aid efforts have touched residents across all ages and creeds over the past week, with both new grassroots groups and established institutions finding their niche for how they can help.

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Defense of Target

McKinley Park resident John Kugler said his inspiration to organize a citizens' watch for the twice-looted Target store at 1940 W. 33rd St. was to free police and fire resources from being pulled away from more serious problems.

"We're not here to protect the building and the property," Kugler said in a live video stream he broadcast during his first night watch. "What we're here for is to protect the resources of our city."

John Kugler's live stream from Target on Tuesday, June 3, includes encounters with patrolling police, arriving volunteers and likely looters. Warning: Contains profanity. 

Kugler and a cadre of local residents that has included up to nine people at a time have been posted around the Target store, maintaining up to 13-hour vigils every night since Tuesday, June 2.

Blockade and Surveillance

John Kugler Dennis Sergel Lucy Serrano McKinley Park Target 20200602Neighbors John Kugler, left, Dennis Sergel and Lucy Serrano guard the McKinley Park Target store as part of a spontaneous citizens' watch to prevent looting.They've built a blockade wall out of turned-over Target carts and have been successfully discouraging approaching prospective looters with the presence of multiple people, surveillance of approaching automobiles and license plates, and live streaming encounters to supporting watchers in a private neighborhood watch group.

Kugler said there were at least six approaches of looters to get inside Target that first night, but the group and barricade drove them away. Looting efforts, which have continued every night at the Target store, are sophisticated and organized, Kugler said, with a common pattern of a scout first assessing a target before being followed by a breach team. Then, once a looting target has been opened up for access, nearby cars are waiting to swoop in, Kugler said.

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The citizens' watch group has coordinated their involvement with both police and the on-site Target security, Kugler said. In a Friday morning post on a private neighborhood watch group, Kugler said he received intelligence that looters were still looking to knock over Target, and that additional neighbors may be needed to help over this weekend.

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Each night the citizens' watch is needed, they will return, Kugler said. "The plan is that we're going to check in with the police and security forces stationed at the building." 

Free Food, Medicine and Rent Assistance 

McKinley Park COVID Support Network Poster 202005The McKinley Park COVID Support Network supports multilingual requests for help via phone, email and Facebook.Local needs have also inspired brand-new collaborations to provide food and other assistance for local residents. Bethany Baptist Church and Neighbors for Environmental Justice have joined up with Gourmet Gorrila to provide Free USDA Food Boxes from noon to 2 p.m. every Thursday in June at the church at 3532 S. Hoyne Ave., Chicago.

The local Dennis De La Rosa Scholarship Fund sponsored a McKinley Park Food Distribution from noon to 3 p.m. on Friday, June 5, at Hoyne Park, 3417 S. Hamilton Ave., Chicago. This effort solicits and provides free groceries to local families in need.

The grassroots McKinley Park COVID Support Network has been working with the neighborhood directly for weeks, helping local residents satisfy all kinds of needs, from grocery deliveries for quarantined families to delivering direct financial assistance to those who need help with food, medicine and rent costs.

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The group, which consists of local concerned neighbors who meet weekly on a Zoom chat, accepts multilingual requests for support through their phone number of (312) 772-4806, their email address of and their Facebook page.

Residents who wish to join the volunteers of the McKinley Park COVID Support Network are encouraged to reach out via the above channels, as should those who wish to provide financial and other support to help neighbors in need.

American Legion to the Rescue

On Sunday night, May 31, looters breached the Walgreens store at 1916 W. 35th St., Chicago, and first began to ransack the pharmacy area, according to published comments in a private neighborhood watch group. However, members of the nearby William McKinley American Legion Post No. 231 at 1956 W. 35th St. rushed to the store and drove off the looters.

"It looks like they were getting ready to destroy the place, but thank God [for] the cavalry," a longtime Walgreens employee wrote in the group. "If it wasn't for our brave men from the Post, we definitely would be in worse shape."

A live stream recorded by John Kugler on Wednesday, June 4, at the McKinley Park Target shows possible looters turning away after encountering the citizens' watch. Warning: Contains profanity. 

Reports indicated that when looters returned a second time that night to Walgreens, the Post's members drove them away again. "We can't thank them enough for all they are doing," the Walgreens employee wrote.

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Community Cleanup 

McKinley Park cleanup crew bus stop 20200604Volunteer neighbors gather at the 31st Street bus stop during the spontaneous McKinley Park Community Cleanup event on Thursday, June 4.McKinley Park cousins Ruby Negrete and Kasandra Negrete felt inspired to organize a community cleanup after starting to pick up litter around their neighborhood home, they said, resulting in the McKinley Park Community Cleanup event on Thursday, June 4, 2020, starting under the rail viaduct at South Leavitt Street. 

Ruby Negrete said she and her cousin were inspired by the My Block, My Hood, My City program that has a mission of unqualified local support and advocacy. "We really wanted to do something on a positive note," she said.

Around 20 local residents pitched in throughout the event, and volunteer and McKinley Park neighbor Vicky Rodriguez said that those who came out are ready to keep helping the neighborhood. 

"There's a lot of people here that are looking forward to getting together and collaborating on projects," Rodriguez said. "They have the people if we can connect them with the organizations."

 McKinley Park residents John Kugler and Vicki Rodriguez contributed media for this article.

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