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HelloBaby, West Woodlawn Nonprofit Children's Play Center, Makes Difficult Decision To Shut Down Due To COVID-19

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago Public Schools students were headed back to school Wednesday morning after a dispute with the Chicago Teachers Union finally got resolved.

At the same time, a South Side nonprofit made the tough choice to shut down its children's center this week, leaving many families disappointed.

As CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported, 2-year-old Elaine Beecroft and her mom took their playdate to go. HelloBaby, at 600 E. 61st St. in West Woodlawn, offered bags with toys, books, and masks for families to pick up and take home; because the nonprofit play center is closed due to COVID.

"I was so sad," said Elaine's mom, Bronte Beecroft. "It's something that has really helped me and my daughter, especially my daughter socialize."

"It was so hard," said HelloBaby founder Debbie Frisch.

Frisch says she relied on the advice of two pediatricians on the nonprofit's board.

"They advised us to close based on all the hospitalizations and the sick kids were at a peak," Frisch said. "The issue here is that our age group cannot be vaccinated."

That age group is kids younger than four. Some of them have caregivers or family members who are elderly, vulnerable, or possibly unvaccinated.

HelloBaby is in ZIP code 60637, where only 51 percent of people are fully vaccinated.

"But it's really hard, because when we reopened, we saw these pandemic kids who had been so isolated and were so nervous and scared and overwhelmed when they first came in, and we just got them to a place where they're so joyful and happy and playing with their peers," Frisch said.

Their last closure lasted months, but Frisch's fingers are crossed that this one will be short.

In the meantime, HelloBaby is launching an online feature called "Ask the Doctor." Families can submit anonymous questions on COVID and other health issues and a pediatrician will answer on social media.

"It's so nice that they keep on putting an effort to better the community and show that they care about us," said Beecroft.

And the Beecrofts and other families can still pick up their at-home activities twice a week.

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