In San Gabriel, local organizations have answered the physical and mental needs of the community: personal protective equipment (PPE), food boxes, hot meals, and tackling the isolation of the pandemic.
By Chasity Jennings-Nuñez
“We may not know each other, but we are one big family, and the community should come together to help each other,” said Dr. Han Huang, Vice CEO of Tzu Chi USA.
The lines of cars stretching for miles at food distribution events are a visual representation of the statistics in LA County. The unemployment rate jumped from 4.6 % in February to a staggering 20.8 % in May, with almost a million people out of work. While the summer saw some improvement, October’s unemployment rate was still 12.1 %, three times the rate in October 2019. With the recent mandate by LA County to close outdoor dining and the subsequent lay-off of many service workers, LA County will likely have a significant rise in the number of unemployed residents. The needs will be great, but so will the opportunity to help.
Tzu Chi USA: PPE
The Tzu Chi USA is an international aid organization with a national headquarters in the San Gabriel Valley. They have run a food pantry in San Gabriel for several years and have seen the number of families requesting help grow since the beginning of the pandemic. As they and others addressed the food insecurity of families in San Gabriel, they also recognized the risks many local residents were forced to take as health care workers with a lack of PPE. Tzu Chi has distributed thousands of masks, face shields and other PPE to individuals, health care centers, police and fire departments. A father whose daughter worked in a hospital that was unable to provide sufficient PPE at the beginning of the pandemic was grateful that he was able to supply her and her colleagues with the equipment from Tzu Chi. He said, “I can feel like a hero for my daughter and I can take care of her.”
Masjid Gibrael: Food boxes
The Masjid Gibrael, Mosque San Gabriel, has been a part of the city since 1983. While many residents have driven past the beautiful building with the gleaming bronze dome, most have had little interaction with the church. It has been a home and source of support and fellowship for San Gabriel Valley’s Muslim community. The crisis created by Covid- 19 revealed an opportunity to extend their support to people outside the members of the Mosque. A sense of “community and caring for people” is what inspired Rick Khan and the Mosque San Gabriel to partner, for the first time, with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to provide weekly hot meals for seniors. Organizations working together to pool resources and meet the growing demands for help, motivated Velma de la Rosa, the Executive Director of La Casa de San Gabriel, to contact Rick and the members of the Mosque. An introduction by SGPD Captain Fabian Valdez resulted in a thriving partnership. Las Casa and the Mosque now work to distribute food boxes filled with fresh fruit, produce and non-perishables to 80-90 families a month. It is a collaboration that has provided volunteers, new relationships and opportunities for culturally diverse groups, Muslims, Latinos and Asians, to work together.
San Gabriel Educational Foundation: Pal Program
The San Gabriel Educational Foundation (SEF) recognized that the mental health needs of students are critical to address. As parents concentrate on providing basic necessities, supporting children’s psychological well-being may become secondary. SEF developed an email “Mystery Pen Pal” program that connected Jefferson Middle School 6th graders. “Sixth grade would normally be the first year at middle school and a time when students are making new friends and broadening their social circles beyond those of their neighborhood and local elementary school” say Executive Director Adela Angiuli. The absence of in-person learning has resulted in isolation, loss of friendships and depression for some. The free, 6-week pen pal program encouraged weekly email communications that were routed through the SEF office to the paired students. At the end of the program, virtual meet and greets were arranged. One parent shared “My child waited excitedly for the letter to arrive and with smiles read it out loud for all of us to hear!”
A rainbow in the midst of the storm
The pandemic has revealed that the safety nets that many families and individuals thought they could rely on have developed holes and gaps. As the need has become more evident in small communities like San Gabriel, we have also seen local non-profits, businesses and religious organizations partner with each other and the city government to address those needs.
The result has been a rainbow in the midst of the storm. The diversity of organizations represents the diversity in San Gabriel and has resulted in creative approaches to complex problems.
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