A few months ago, Charlene Vickery and Kendell Sullivan were gearing up for the grand reopening of FocusOm, their Brookfield yoga studio which underwent months and thousands of dollars’ worth of renovations.
The April celebration was slated to be the owners’ way of reintroducing local residents to the mind and body benefits of yoga — a happy, peaceful way to start spring.
Instead, the universe had other plans in store, unleashing a global coronavirus pandemic that upended everyday life for billions around the globe.
At first, early warnings about public gatherings led Vickery, of LaGrange, and Sullivan, of Willow Springs to clean their studio more often and restrict class sizes. Then, as the statewide stay-at-home order took effect in mid-March, the owners had to shift their entire business model to virtual classes.
However, the short and long-term effects of the pandemic on their yoga business was not the only things on Vickery and Sullivan’s minds.
Sullivan is also an essential worker, an anesthesiology nurse at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. She also happens to be married to an anesthesiologist at Loyola, so she is seeing firsthand the effects of COVID-19 and the toll it’s taken on the medical field.
Vickery wondered how she could take the principles of what they teach at FocusOm and engage in something positive, both for the greater community and local essential workers.
“How do we bring peace into our lives? How do we take this practice of staying calm into our everyday lives? This is why we practice yoga,” Vickery said. “This is a time to know who your neighbors are and know the people who might need help on your block.”
Vickery recruited her daughter, Morgan; her daughter’s boyfriend, Rye Decker; and several of FocusOm’s students to make masks.
Sullivan was able to supply repurposed surgical-grade materials from the hospital to make the masks, and the group has been able to make more than 200 masks. While not N95-certified, the goal is for the masks to serve as extras for the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff at Loyola to wear when they need them around the hospital and for going to grocery stores and to run other errands in public.
But, Vickery wanted to find another way to help.
After learning from Sullivan that Loyola’s cafeteria was closed and that medical staff often do not have time to pack meals or go out to get food during their long shifts, Vickery came up with the idea of soliciting donations, buying food from local restaurants facing slow business due to the pandemic and donating those meals to Loyola medical staff.
Vickery connected with Tischler Finer Foods in Brookfield, along with Brookfield restaurants Mary’s Morning Mix-Up, Brookfield Breakfast and Irish Times and LaGrange restaurants Palmer Place and FourteenSixteen, who were all open to participating in the project.
Now, Vickery has created a schedule where, twice a week, Loyola staff in the anesthesiology department, operating room, nursing staff and surgery technicians, are delivered lunch or dinner.
Meals are individually packaged at the restaurants, and volunteer drivers pick up the food and drop them off at Loyola’s main entrance, where a hospital employee distributes the grab-and-go meals.
The restaurants charge a discounted rate of between $10 and $12 per meal, and some of the restaurants have even been able to chip in some of their own money to help fund the meals.
Tischler Finer Foods offered to donate its first meals for free, and Brookfield resident Jennifer Froemel (who owns mental health business Innovative Counseling Partners, with offices in Oak Park and North Riverside), heard about the project and joined in donating and raising money.
As of press time, Vickery says nearly $3,000 has been raised from locals and the group now has a GoFundMe page set up to solicit more donations online.
Linda Tischler, owner of Tischler Finer Foods, said for the grocer’s first meal delivery, they served deli sandwiches, a side salad, an apple and a bag of chips. Their next meal, she said, will be a hot meal, like chicken or lasagna.
“It’s nice to see how everyone is uniting to get through this uncomfortable time,” she said. “We’re all important, and we all play important roles to help get through this time.”
Sullivan’s wife, Dr. Lisa Gramlich, says the Brookfield and LaGrange communities’ kindness has been very appreciated by the staff at Loyola.
“I think people are hugely grateful,” Gramlich said. “It’s just nice to know that people think enough of you to donate these things.”
At FocusOm, Vickery and Sullivan are also offering discounted classes for all first responders and for first-time students looking for a healthy way to recharge.
“We are providing a healthy opportunity for connection,” Vickery said. “In some ways, we have taken this pandemic to create more intimacy and stronger bonds with members and students.”
To donate money to go toward local restaurant meals for Loyola medical staff, visit the group’s GoFundMe page.