Combating COVID-19: While Congress fails to act, our Affiliates provide healing and hope

UnidosUS’s Affiliate Mary’s Center team.

In this update of the work our Affiliates are doing on ground, we highlight the efforts of Mary’s Center, Comunidades Unidas, The Chicano Federation and Conexión Américas. We are receiving weekly updates from these resilient community-based organizations that are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, helping and supporting our community with all their needs, from health care to food to cash assistance. We highlight their work below, and take this opportunity to show our appreciation for everything they are doing and for sharing these stories to bring to life the needs of Latino and immigrant families.

By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist, UnidosUS

A banner displaying COVID-19 resources welcomes visitors to many of our Affiliates’ websites. This has been the first step they’ve taken to inform our community about their services in this time of crisis. Many of them have also established their own funds to provide direct assistance to families in need. UnidosUS is doing what we can to support our Affiliate Network’s COVID-19 efforts through our Esperanza/Hope Fund, to tackle the disproportionate impact this pandemic is having on the health and economic well-being of the Latino community.

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Mary’s Center has been serving communities in the DC area since 1988, providing health care, education, and social services. During this pandemic, people are reaching out to them every day “seeking life-saving medicines, health care, shelter, food, and income,” writes Maria Gomez, president and CEO of Mary’s Center, in this article co-authored with Bibi Hidalgo, co-founder of Future Partners LLC.

The center is now offering virtual appointments to ensure “that line cooks and sanitation workers have access to hypertension and asthma medications. Our counselors talk with them when they experience emotional hardships,” she continues. Gomez and Hidalgo make the case for “the forgotten ones,” the essential workers who are in the field, picking up the food we eat, cooking it in the restaurants still open, and cleaning and sanitizing the spaces we still use.


“Believe or not, we are now busier than ever,” Yehemy Zavala Orozco, community education director, took some time from her extra-full schedule to tell us how this crisis is affecting our community in Utah. “We receive the second-highest number of calls in the state after 211 from United Way. We have more than 200 calls per week,” she explains. People calling are in need of assistance to help pay for rent, food, and bills.

Comunidades Unidas uses a promotores de salud model, that has now adapted to become virtual: “We cannot do the face-to-face charlas, but what we are doing is sending videos, calling [our clients] over the phone, texting them to explain how they can get help and how we can guide them to know how to talk to their landlord and their creditors, and how they can access health care services.” Furthermore, this organization is helping their clients fill out their SNAP applications because they are the only organization in the state doing those applications at the moment. “It takes us hours to do it, but it doesn’t matter: we are going to continue doing it because people need it,” Zavala Orozco shares.


This institution, who has been serving the Latino and immigrant community in San Diego for more than 50 years, is still providing their services and programs, as well as supporting their clients with their emerging needs. Nancy Maldonado, CEO of The Chicano Federation, explains that “our team is providing remote teaching opportunities to continue the early childhood education of our students.” This organization is also “delivering necessary sanitation and cleaning supplies so that child care providers remain in compliance and can continue operating and caring for the children of our essential workforce,” Maldonado continues.

In their affordable homes complexes, The Chicano Federation is ensuring their tenants are safe: “Many of our residents are already some of the most vulnerable in our community and this crisis has only exacerbated their situation,” the CEO says. “We have been delivering food, cleaning supplies, facemasks, and cards with encouraging messages to our tenants, prioritizing our senior tenants and tenants with disabilities or mobility issues.”


The team at this Nashville-based organization is also hearing the same devastating stories from the families they serve: people losing their jobs, leaving them with no source of income, unable to pay rent and utilities, and to buy food. Juliana Ospina Cano, executive director of Conexión Américas, explains in this opinion article how “we have been able to provide direct economic assistance to [our] families. However, the need greatly exceeds available funding—in March alone we had a waitlist of 900 families.”

Just as we hear from many of our Affiliates, Ospina Cano also explains how her colleagues are now busier than ever “as we pivot and adapt to serving immigrant families virtually.” The Conexión Américas team continues to offer their education programs online, which has brought up another challenge: the lack of access to technology for these families. The negative effects in our economy are also hurting Conexión Américas’ entrepreneurs in their Mesa Komal commercial kitchen, who are seeing a decrease in their sales.

Latinos are stepping up for our country. Congress must step up for Latinos.

UnidosUS is working with members of Congress to ensure that the next relief package is more inclusive of our community. The goal is to extend health care and economic relief to as many Latinos as possible, with special attention to children. Join us in urging Congress to include Latinos and immigrant families priorities in the new relief package: add your name here.

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