HUMBOLDT PARK — A woman was pierced by a needle as she and other Ukrainian Village neighbors were trying to tidy up the area for an Earth Day-themed event over the weekend.
A group of about eight residents were picking up garbage along a stretch of Chicago Avenue on Saturday afternoon when they reached California Avenue and came across a number of needles and plastic baggies, said Steve Niketopoulos, president of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Watch.
Niketopoulos said some of the group, who were all wearing gloves, began picking up the apparent drug needles and putting them in trash bins.
According to the FDA, which outlines what to do for those who encounter a needle or are accidentally pricked, needles should be thrown away in special "Sharps disposal containers" and not in public trash bins to avoid injury.
A 30-year-old woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, said she was throwing away what she thought was simply a piece of litter nearby when she felt something sharp prick her finger, she said.
She quickly discovered it was needle that had been covered in dirt and trash, she said.
"It was a real scare," Niketopoulos said.
The group took her to the hospital, where bloodwork was done and she was given an HIV test. Nothing showed up, but she said she needed to go back to the hospital a few times in the next few months to be sure.
Doctors told her the chances of her contracting a serious disease were low, but it's the slight chance that has her worried.
"I’m scared now," she said. "I’m a big environmentalist, [and it] breaks my heart that I look at trash now and I’m scared to pick it up."
She brought the needle with her to the hospital, where she was told it was meant to be an insulin needle, but that they had no way of determining what it was used for.
Rather than be scared or angry, Niketopolous said he preferred to focus on how the community could help her.
He set up a Paypal account to help with the medical visits and posted it to the Community Page for Ukrainian Village on Facebook. He kept her identity shielded and let the group know that she had recently lost her job.
Within the hour, residents raised $200.
"It's amazing to see neighbors come together to help somebody," Niketopoulos said.
The woman, a four-year resident, said that before Saturday, she felt "isolated" in a city where it can be easy to remain strangers to your neighbors. She called it "incredible" how people stepped in.
"It's given me faith — definitely — in the people of Chicago," she said.
But she said she'll likely continue to be frightened until her hospital visits are over. And as much as she feels closer to her neighbors, the ones who left the needles out in the open have unfortunately touched her life, too, she said.
"Everyone affects everyone else in the world, no matter how small you think your actions are," she said. "The thought of just throwing your junk out into the street — it can definitely affect people and it’s definitely affecting me."