A few weeks ago, I gathered with our Latinx Centro Rendu program staff for a retreat. It was a morning of reflection, unpacking, off-loading, and of renewal. Throughout the day, I listened to the stories of individuals and families impacted by COVID-19. The stories told were filled with pain. Stories not just about the neighbors we serve in our community programs; but also intimate stories from our staff. One of them, with a knot in her throat and tears swelling up in her eyes, told the group about her sister who was fighting and losing the battle against COVID.
One story ignited another, then Susana shared the agony of seeing families lose their jobs, their livelihood, their dignity, and hope itself. She reminded us that our jobs go beyond providing neighbors with direct assistance and that our Latina sisters and brothers, are at the highest risk of this life threatening pandemic. She sees our primary job to protect our neighbors from losing hope (esperanza). In Susana’s words, “helping to keep hope alive is a heavy yoke to carry, it weighs on my shoulders and that of my co-workers. We know that if the people we serve lose their “esperanza”, we haven’t done our job. Between tears of frustration and anger, Susana said we must “keep on going no matter what price we pay; this is our community.” The many stories of people suffering from lack of employment, need for food, debilitating isolation, had taken an emotional toll upon our staff, but they were not ready to lie down.
To the contrary, they became emboldened! In fact, it was the staff who alerted me back in March about the challenges of food insecurity within the community. They organized and asked for help to open a new food distribution site at our Kent thrift store. This drive-through foodbank, served over 300 families weekly. Before government funding was released for rent assistance, SVdP had already begun to organize our volunteers in the churches to respond to the 40 percent surge at our helpline, which last year received over 45,000 requests.
Our staff got fired up with new ideas and solutions to the growing challenge ahead. They immediately began making house calls and delivering food to families who had contracted COVID. Our education programs began to operate remotely, providing technology support to parents who needed help accessing school information, and for our case management work to continue without missing a beat. It was amazing grace! Latinos helping Latinos and anyone else who came to our doors.
As a Latina and executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, I am grateful for the organizational values of ingenuity, innovation, diversity, and of investing in the communities we serve. Our impact has been crucial, as our network of care has expanded to allow community members to lead solutions. Centro Rendu is an example of that vital impact that occurs when we welcome, foster, and support new ideas from our marginalized communities.
As a non-profit leader working with communities across all of King County, believe me when I say to you; it will take all of us working together to rise up in a post pandemic economy. Now more than ever, we need a network of care that encircles all of humanity. A human chain of compassion that gives rise to new opportunities for birthing hope itself.