Last updated on December 22, 2020
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By Vanessa Sánchez
For La Voz Unida
Community-based organizations rally for Latino families with food insecurity by providing urgently needed services and information in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their strategy is rooted in partnerships with community leaders.
Food insecure families are those that have little or no access to nutritious food items. Before COVID-19, 16.8 percent of Latino families with children reported food insecurity compared to 10.4 percent of non-Latino families with children in the country. With the pandemic, 47 percent of Latino families with children have reported being food insecure and those numbers are expected to rise, a Northwestern University report said.
Centro SOL-Johns Hopkins, an organization that was founded in 2013, promotes equity in health and opportunities for Latinos in Baltimore. Since May, in partnership with the Comité Latino de Baltimore, an organization run by Latina women who connect families to public and private services offered in the city, Centro SOL delivers grocery boxes every Wednesday and Saturday to more than 26 zip codes in the city and some in Baltimore county.
Around the country, organizations and schools provide free meals and grocery boxes on a daily basis for families in need. However, access to these services can be difficult for immigrant and Latino families who face language barriers, are undocumented, receive the information late or lack transportation.
“In our conversations we realized that access to food was not equitable,” said Monica Guerrero, theExecutive Director for Centro SOL.
“Latino and immigrant families are receiving a contradictory message. We tell them, stay home to avoid getting sick, but if you are hungry and lack food, you should go to the school every day to pick up lunch,” Guerrero said.
To reduce exposure to the virus, it is important to help families stay home when possible, Guerrero said. Centro SOL buys food with financial aid received from the Baltimore city government and organizations such as Southeast CDC. A network of more than 150 volunteers delivers food to the e homes of vulnerable families and those who lack transportation.
Some families who have a car or live in the area wait in line to pick up food boxes at two different locations in the Highlandtown neighborhood every Wednesday and Saturday.
Centro SOL involves the community in their decision-making process. “Oftentimes we think we have all the solutions, but it is important to work with and listen to the community,” Guerrero said.
This means providing services to the community that directly needs them. To tackle food insecurity, it also means asking them what they eat, Guerrero explained. Centro SOL buys what they call “culturally appropriate” food and regularly communicates with the community through organizers such as Lucia Islas, president of the Comité Latino de Baltimore, to address their needs.
Islas, one of the committee founders, explained that many Latino families have lost hours at work because of newly imposed state restrictions to combat COVID-19 and businesses shutting down due to economic hardship. Losing hours means losing income, Islas said.
“We see three levels of families: families working too few hours, families with only one member working, families unemployed altogether,” Islas said.
According to the Northwestern University report, 52 percent of Latino families with children expected to lose employment income in the next four weeks; 22 percent were very confident and 15 percent were not confident at all in their ability to afford food for the next four weeks. This report was conducted in the last week of May.
COVID-19 continues to disproportionally affect Latino families who only represent 10.6 percent of the population in the state of Maryland. According to the Maryland Department of Health, 42,650 Latinos have contracted the virus and 490 have died. In Baltimore City’s 21224 zip code, where a large number of immigrants and Latino families live, 3286 cases were reported through December 18th.
The real consequences of food insecurity during the pandemic are yet to come. The problem could intensify in the next few months while COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The senate has yet to agree on a new relief package, and civil rights organizations are demanding policies that allow immigrant families access to federal aid regardless of their immigration status. They are also asking for the expansion of programs like SNAP and for rental assistance.