United Center isn't hosting any Chicago Blackhawks or Bulls games, but it's being utilized for the greater good during the coronavirus pandemic.
The arena and its outside campus are logistics hubs to assist with food storage for hunger relief, first responder staging and collection of needed medical supplies. The efforts are spearheaded by United Center Joint Venture, of which Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf are co-presidents.
"Rocky and Jerry believe it's their duty, and they've made it clear that, where they can repurpose that building, repurpose it," said Guy Chipparoni, president and CEO of Res Publica Group, a Chicago-based communications firm. "You're seeing that in real life, between what's happening inside the arena and what's happening outside the arena. Ownership realizes it's an important piece of real estate, logistically close to the expressways."
On Monday, the City of Chicago and Team Rubicon, a veteran-led global disaster response organization, teamed with United Center to open a personal-protective equipment (PPE) donation drop-off. Team Rubicon volunteers will collect PPE items that are in critical storage, sort items and coordinate distribution to essential work staff and vulnerable populations. Donation drop-off is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT Monday through Friday in United Center's East Atrium. Donors should visit chi.gov/donatePPE to review guidelines and directions on how to help.
Other area organizations have been utilizing United Center since late March. Project C.U.R.E. hosted a PPE drive in one of the arena's parking lots March. 29. The Greater Chicago Food Depository, the city's food bank, is using United Center as a satellite storage facility. As of April 10, there are 25,828 boxes, 640 pallets containing 774,840 pounds of non-perishable food on the arena floor of United Center.
"These are the emergency food boxes that our volunteers have been making five days a week at the depository," Greater Chicago Food Depository senior manager of public relations and content Greg Trotter said. "They've been stacking up in our warehouse. We're bursting at the seams, so having United Center offer up its space for storage is great, because it means we can bring in more volunteers to pack more food. It frees up more space in our warehouse.
"We run two volunteer sessions Tuesday through Saturday, at the depository, and we've been constrained because of social distancing. We've had to keep numbers down and we ran out of room. And so being able to shift all this food over means we have more room and we can bring in more volunteers, which is great."
At some point, the Blackhawks and Bulls will be back at United Center. Until then, the arena is helping organizations who are helping those in need through this trying time.
"Everybody's looking forward to the building lights back up with teams and concerts," Chipparoni said. "But until then, [Wirtz and Reinsdorf] made it clear to staff to work with city, state and federal relief efforts."