Meet the 7-Year-Old Philanthropist Handing Out Masks to the Homeless in Chicago
And she’s raising money to build a hotel for the homeless.
Olivia Dru Tyler of Lombard, Ill., has made it her mission to hand out free face coverings to the homeless and others in need during the pandemic—and she hasn’t even started third grade yet.
At seven years old, Olivia has taken matters into her own hands helping the maskless cover up against the coronavirus. She’s now selling her own face coverings through her nonprofit, OliviaDruCares, donating one mask for every $5 mask purchased, and raising money to make her dream of starting a hotel for the homeless a reality.
Again, she’s seven.
Olivia’s mom, Linda Tyler says Olivia has felt a calling to help the homeless since she was five years old. Then once the virus hit, the Tylers would take walks together during lockdown and Olivia kept asking if they could buy some of the houses for sale in the neighborhood and let homeless people stay there.
When Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker announced that face masks or coverings would be required for anyone venturing out in public, effective May 1, Olivia’s thoughts turned immediately to those less fortunate.
“Governor Pritzker said on TV that all people are supposed to wear masks, but I thought, how are people supposed to get masks? Masks are sometimes expensive and sometimes people don’t even have the money,” Olivia tells Real Simple. “So I decided that we make a company called OliviaDruCares where we give you some masks to help you stay safe, including in this time.”
Her parents listened. “Her mother is really awesome,” Olivia’s dad, Andrew Tyler, says, praising Linda for hearing Olivia’s concerns for what they were, rather than brushing them aside as just a child's musings. “She paid enough attention to say we’re on to something here, and we just hopped on board.”
They’ve been supporting her every step of the way, since they first began delivering masks and necessities back in April.
“Olivia would provide masks to people who just couldn’t get them,” Linda says. “They were hard to come by—now they’re more available—but during that time they were not. And we didn’t just want to focus on shelters, but to help people on the ground level.”
Anyone who might need a mask, Olivia was there to help—essential workers, people in grocery stores, veterans, and also people on the street. Olivia keeps a basket of masks in the car for this exact reason.
“Every time [we see people] at intersections asking for money, we’d give them both money and masks and an encouraging word,” Linda says. “It’s a hard time for everyone, so it feels so good to help somebody if you’re able to.”
Olivia’s efforts took off when the Tylers accidentally went to the wrong address for a mask delivery. It ended up being the best mistake they could have made.
“We were trying to make an order, and I thought that we were going to the right house, but we weren’t,” Olivia says. “But turns out it was actually the right house, and that’s when we sold as much masks as we could.”
They had mistakenly knocked on the door of the head of the Salvation Army. TV crews for Fox 32 and NBC 5 were there and eager to interview them. This chance encounter sent their initiative into overdrive over the next few weeks. They were able to drop off 240 masks to the Oakbrook Terrace Salvation Army, and from there, they’ve been on a roll. That's when Olivia became known as “the little girl with the big heart” Andrew says.
Olivia’s inspiring story has been told all over the country, including in The Daily Herald and on GoodMorningAmerica.com, even on The Today Show. Governor Pritzker himself even took to social media to thank the Chicago suburbs' youngest hometown hero
The Tylers, with Olivia at the helm, have since partnered with several organizations in surrounding communities to help support the underserved during this time.
“There’s a place here in Illinois called Tent City where the majority of homeless people live, and we would go to homeless communities and give away masks, bottled water, and other essentials,” Andrew says. They’ve also brought specific items to different places, depending on the need, such as new clean towels, to Pacific Gardens Mission homeless shelter, and food donations to the food bank Reach Ministries, Inc., which is connected to their church, the DuPage African Methodist Church.
DuPage county doesn’t have its own homeless shelter. Andrew explains that those without housing are typically crowded together in places like churches for the night, hundreds of beds crammed together. But once the virus hit, this was no longer an option. So DuPage Pads, an organization that helps find interim and permanent housing for the homeless, started renting hotel rooms and distributing vouchers for people to redeem for those hotels. Inspired by its mission, the Tylers have partnered with Dupage Pads and visited several of their hotel locations, handing out hundreds of masks, helping serve food, deliver socks, and provide other bare essentials to clients.
What started as one little girl’s desire to help people access face coverings around the community, has turned into a fully fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit, OliviaDruCares.
They’re not only providing masks, but working in concert with existing homeless organizations to support those transitioning to temporary and permanent housing, cover prescription co-pays, and more. “The mission of OliviaDruCares is food, shelter, and healthcare,” Linda says.
“For every mask sold, we donate one to the homeless or an essential worker, but the ultimate goal is to be able to get to Olivia’s vision of a homeless hotel, and to house, feed, and provide a healthy environment to the homeless people,” Andrew says.
These days Olivia is starting to offer masks of her own design, based on one of her drawings: a smaller pink hand (hers) within a larger, rainbow hand (her mom’s) surrounded by hearts. Above reads: “We’re all in this together.”
“I made them myself,” Olivia says. “They represent God’s rainbow and how he’s not going to flood the world.”
Linda says giving out masks is their way of giving hugs. “People who are really broken in spirit would hear from her—she would ask them what color [mask] they wanted, hand them out, and say, ‘God bless you,’” she says. “It was just enough to help them get through what may have been one of their toughest days.”
And while Olivia was never in it for the praise or attention, she already recognizes how telling her story, spreading the word, and keeping up her amazing work is getting her closer to her goal of establishing a homeless hotel.
At the end of the day, Olivia says it best: “See the world not as it is, but as you want it to be.”
Head to OliviaDruCares.com to learn more about Olivia, donate, or buy a mask.