A year ago, Civic Association President Larinda Hooks went from taking in complaints about problems like garbage and speeding to handing out masks and delivering food.
"Everyone was saying, ‘God bless you, God bless you.’ In my head I was saying, ‘Yeah, God bless me, but God bless all of us. We all need to make it through this,’” explained Hooks.
When the pandemic first took hold in America, its grip was tightest in Elmhurst, bringing life in the bustling immigrant community to a near standstill.
People lined up for hours seeking testing or treatment at city-run Elmhurst Hospital Center.
Inside, the staff was overworked and under protected, caring for a surge of critically ill patients.
"You just had this feeling that your patients were dying and you were probably going to die,” said Dr. Robert Thompson, an attending internal medicine physician at Elmhurst.
He said it felt like the hospital was "breaking."
It had too many patients, and not enough supplies or equipment.
“When everyone was so sick in the hospital and there was so much fear in the community and you just felt horrible about it wondering, ‘What were we accomplishing here?’” said Dr. Thompson.
A year later, Elmhurst staffers say the hospital has been transformed, implementing best practices developed during the crisis.
Medical teams have been reorganized, and made more mobile and efficient, allowing them to see patients more quickly and more often. Medical residents are more supervised and there is new respect between departments.
"We are a better hospital now and it was a very high price to pay,” explained Dr. Thompson.
Nursing Supervisor Anisa Quintanilla said a year later and Elmhurst hospital is in a position to help the community heal.
"We are able to provide vaccines to the community. We have information and we have been providing monochromal antibodies to the community, convalescent plasma, so many different treatments to help out with this. We are so much better prepared,” said Quintanilla.
Hook sees a change in the broader community, too.
At the height of the crisis, residents clapped and cheered the hospital workers as they ended their shifts.
A year later, Hook says more residents are engaged in trying to help the community, for example, sharing information about COVID-19 vaccinations.
She believes that community spirit will continue.
"It hit our community hard, but it didn’t destroy us and we are still out here, stronger than ever, trying to make sure our community members are okay,” said Hooks.
As a testament to that, a giant heart greets residents on Astoria Boulevard that reads "From Elmhurst With Love." The community says it is a reminder of their triumph and survival over the last year.
"I am proud to say, we are Elmhurst strong,” added Quintanilla.