by Emily Henderson
In mid-March, as the COVID-19 crisis descended in Yolo County, local community organizers were anxious about the well-being of immigrant families throughout the county. The majority of immigrants – the overwhelming majority of whom pay taxes – were excluded from federal relief efforts, despite immigrant populations being disproportionately impacted by both by COVID-19 itself and it’s economic fallout. “Our immigrant families, many with mixed-status households [documented, undocumented, and citizens], are being hit especially hard by the pandemic” says longtime Davis resident, Ximena Jackson. “Many have lost their jobs and are unable to cover necessities like food, rent, and utilities. Almost all the families have children in Davis schools. Because of their status, many are not eligible for government relief payments or unemployment. Due to language and institutional barriers, many do not know where to turn for help.”
To respond to this need, a small group of immigration advocates joined forces with Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network (YIIN) to create ApoYolo. The program’s name combines Spanish word apoyo – to help or support – and Yolo County. The program’s goal is to support Spanish-speaking immigrant families during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing them with information, connecting them with services, and meeting financial needs not covered by existing services. “YIIN sees this initiative as yet another way to respond to the underserved needs of immigrants in this county,” said John Katonah, YIIN’s chair. “Part of YIIN’s mission is to bring awareness of those essential workers in our community who do not have a safety net to protect them from what we are going through now with the Covid-19 pandemic.”
As the federal government continues to fail to provide coherent leadership, community members are rising to meet the local challenges. Thus far, ApoYolo has trained 28 bilingual volunteers to connect with 27 families in Davis and one in unincorporated Yolo County. Each volunteer connects personally with a family, provides them with accurate, up-to-date information about safety during the pandemic, and helps them connect with Yolo Food Bank, CommuniCare, and Empower Yolo to meet the family’s needs for food, healthcare, assistance with utilities, help with distance-learning while schools are closed, and other support. For needs not covered by existing services, YIIN can provide some financial aid. “These families were facing enormous challenges before COVID-19.” says ApoYolo project manager Anoosh Jorjorian. “While I find life during COVID-19 difficult, I am acutely aware of the privileges that make the pandemic much easier for me to bear. We can only survive this together, as a community. So I feel an obligation to do my utmost to help families that are really struggling. Until there is more equity so everyone can feel secure in housing, food, and healthcare during a pandemic, projects like ours will need to fill the gap as best we can.”
Since the shelter-in-place order started in March, YIIN has distributed over $20,000 to fourteen families to help primarily with rent payments. Although renters have protections from eviction during COVID-19, most do not know the procedure to ensure those protections, and they still need to make good-faith payments on high rent costs. ApoYolo volunteers are helping them pay rent owed and then write letters to their landlords or management companies. “A big piece of our work is building relationships and supporting familias [families] by making sure they have the information about the different resources available for them and walk with them as they navigate the different systems,” said ApoYolo volunteer Natalia Deeb-Sossa. “One such familia has a member undergoing cancer treatment and they received an eviction notice. We worked with them, and as a result, the family is still part of our community and is housed.”
Thus far, donations are keeping up with the needs of the current ApoYolo families. Local community advocate, Greg Brucker with Jewish Action NorCal, raised $5,000 via a Facebook fundraiser in late April, and Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor has reached out to local faith communities asking for their support of ApoYolo.
But ApoYolo is looking to expand to Winters and throughout the county. “There are immigrant families in need throughout the county. Our goal is to expand beyond the Davis pilot,” said Jorjorian, “However, to do that, we need additional funding and community support.”
ApoYolo has set a goal of raising $50,000 by the end of June to support expansion. In the meantime, rent is due June 5, and timely donations are critical to help ApoYolo families make good faith payments and help reduce the heavy burden of rent back-pay. Community members are invited to donate at yiinyolo.org, via YIIN’s Facebook page, or via check to YIIN P.O. Box 74295, Davis, CA 95617, and write “ApoYolo” on the memo line. Interested volunteers can sign up at: https://bit.ly/ApoYoloSignup. Bilingual Spanish/English volunteers will be trained to connect with families, and English-only volunteers are needed to assist with assembling information materials and fundraising. For more info, contact Anoosh Jorjorian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, ApoYolo’s volunteers will keep working. “A public health crisis is a powerful reminder: the health and wellbeing of one depends on the health and wellbeing of all” said volunteer Antonio de Loera-Brust. “ApoYolo is not sufficient to cover the many gaps in our social safety net that leave immigrants behind – but it is imperative that we do what we can for our neighbors in need, regardless of who they are or where they have come from. We cannot leave our immigrant neighbors, friends, and family behind.”
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