UCC extends relief to pandemic-stressed Latinx in Northern California
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura and her husband were doing okay. They especially were excited about their baby’s approaching due date.
But then the pandemic took his job. With the baby due any day, Laura also was unable to work. Their self-sufficient family suddenly was left struggling financially.
This family is part of the pandemic-stressed and underserved Latinx community in Northern California’s Placer County. It’s one of the many communities of color across the United States suffering a disproportionately high toll from COVID-19.
A $7,500 United Church of Christ COVID-19 Conference Recovery Grant has helped them and other community members with pressing needs for food, rental assistance and hygiene supplies.
The grant funded a project of First Congregational Church UCC, Auburn, Calif.
“Our church is always looking for a way to emulate Jesus in mission work and reaching out,” said Carol Williams, who chairs the roughly 225-member congregation’s Community and Global Ministries Board. She named several other projects, including work to address hunger and homelessness.
Placer County’s Latino Leadership Council was the church’s implementing partner in this project.
The Council is the region’s “only Latino-focused nonprofit with a team of employee ‘promotores,’ said Executive Director Elisa Herrera. “They conduct home visits to assess needs and connect Latinos to a multitude of health, education and youth development services.
“Promotores are people who have learned the way and then teach others,” she said. “They know the system and are trusted by the people. They advance the Council’s mission to build cultural strength, leadership and well-being within the Latinx community.”
Rev. Kenneth W. Moore, the Auburn congregation’s moderator, connected the Council with the UCC funding.
“We looked at the possibility of providing direct services to the immigrant community,” Moore said. “But we decided the project would be more effective if we utilized the existing network of relationships that people knew about and already trusted.”
Moore knew of the work of the Latino Leadership Council and approached Herrera to learn the council’s needs in the pandemic. “After we met with Elisa, we were convinced that she was going to be a great partner,” he said.
Moore said that “while the federal government has provided some funds to assist persons impacted by this pandemic, sadly only limited aid has thus far reached our Latino brothers and sisters. We are profoundly grateful for this opportunity to partner with the wider church to reach out in love and care to some of our neediest neighbors.”
The Rev. Diane Weible, UCC Northern California Nevada Conference Minister, agreed. “I celebrate the way this church has partnered with the community to support those most-affected by COVID.
“It is what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in the places that need it the most,” she said. “I am grateful for how the wider church has played a role in making this happen. It is what I celebrate about being in covenant to do God’s important work for those in need.”
The $7,500 grant was used in this way:
- $5,000 for rental assistance, paid directly to landlords. Six families struggling to catch up with back rent each received $500. Eight more families received $250 stipends.
- $2,500 for fresh fruits and vegetables and other dietary staples, like rice and beans, to supplement the canned goods in weekly food boxes from the Placer Food Bank. The food boxes were delivered by Latino Leadership Council promotores to families in need. Laura and her husband were one of the families helped.
- $100 for face masks, cleaning supplies and hygiene items. These helped a daughter afraid to leave the house. She didn’t want to bring COVID-19 back to her mother, who has heart issues. She received face masks along with coaching on how to stay safe when she goes out. She and her mother also received food boxes.
Across the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has especially impacted people of color. Latinx are nearly three times as likely to die of COVID-19 as whites, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Latinx make up 14.6 percent of the Placer County population of just over 400,000, according to county data for 2020. To date, Placer County has counted 19,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 200 deaths.
The UCC grant “allowed us to deliver things people had not been able to afford,” Herrera said. “That brought grateful tears to people’s eyes, in wonder at how strangers could be so nice to them. Often other grants are restricted – for example, to documented immigrants. We serve people regardless of their immigration status. We are grateful that the UCC funds were unrestricted.”
The Latino Leadership Council serves 500 families a year, Herrera noted. It continues to deliver food to COVID-19 affected households to help them stay isolated, and is “ramping up education and outreach on the importance of vaccinations.”
The grant to the Northern California Nevada Conference was one of eight awarded in 2020 by Wider Church Ministries. Funding went for projects as diverse as eviction protection for people out of work, mental health support for pastors and chaplains, personal protective equipment (PPE) for hurricane shelters, burial expenses, and technology upgrades for rural congregations.
“These grants were created as a way to address needs in our conferences that would benefit broader communities most impacted by the pandemic,” said the Rev. Karen Georgia A. Thompson, UCC associate general minister.
“The grant to First Congregational Church was implemented with the community, supporting identified needs that were beyond the church,” she said. “It supported recovery for individuals whose lives have been interrupted and disrupted. The collaborative engagement provided for those most in need in these moments.”
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