The coronavirus pandemic is unlike any challenge we’ve faced in recent history, revealing life-threatening inequities in communities across the US.
The West / Southwest IAF deployed a relationship-centered response, shifting face-to-face meetings online to listen, research and strategically act, thus working to maintain the bonds of community and act decisively to respond to the needs of our families and neighbors.
In each of the stories below (and in the 2020 report at right), leaders turned to their institutions to share stories of pain and loss, and launched heroic efforts to address aspects of the crises that the pandemic created.
For 45 years, the West/Southwest IAF has used the practices and habits of organizing to assert the common good in public life. In the midst of addressing serious issues, our best strategies have emerged when we work together. As a network, we continue to employ these same strategies, sometimes with new technological tools, in the coronavirus crisis.
The one-on-one approach to persuasion isn’t necessarily the most efficient, but it may be the most effective for the vaccine holdouts who have resisted every other large-scale push....
We know it can work because it already has.
One group out there doing the intensive, small-scale work to raise vaccination rates is the Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders Coalition, [an expansion project of TMO] based in Beaumont. Six team members told the editorial board last week that their community, like so many, is awash in vaccine conspiracies. Coordinator Mary Scott said the group has been going directly to apartment complexes with accurate vaccine information, and got approval from some Beaumont businesses to engage with customers about their vaccination drives. The grassroots team got 88 people vaccinated two weekends ago through churches and other centers....
Lamar University student [and TMO organizer] Ricky Mendoza said conversations with Hispanic community members revealed concerns about fertility and the vaccine, which numerous health experts have debunked. (And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a strong recommendation recently that pregnant women should get vaccinated.)
Mendoza said he’s finding that one-on-one conversations with people, in English and in Spanish, are slowly changing minds.
[Photo Credit: Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders]
Changing Minds on the Vaccine, One by One, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Coalition Brings Vaccines to Beaumont Residents in At-Risk Areas, Beaumont Enterprise [pdf]
Organizations Team Up in Beaumont to Spread Word About Importance of Getting Covid Vaccine, FOX News [pdf]
Putting Our Faith & Commitment to Democracy in Action, Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders
In collaboration the Harris County Pubic Health Department and leaders from St. Leo the Great and Our Lady of Grace Catholic Churches, TMO brought over 790 vaccines to overlooked neighborhoods in unincorporated and low-income areas of Harris County.
In Aldine, within the county borders, this collaboration was particularly important for parishioners and neighbors of St. Leo the Great Catholic parish, where over 690 people received their first vaccine dose over the course of two events in August.
In South Houston, leaders from Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church encouraged parishioners to get vaccinated through a combination of pulpit announcements, flyers and after-mass signups. Said Sylvia Soria, church secretary of Our Lady of Grace:
Our parish membership is 99% Latino. Many of our families are working families that can not take time off during the week to get the vaccine across the other side of town. We’re glad to work with TMO, GCLC, and Harris County Health Department to bring the COVID-19 vaccine on a Saturday to our community.
Jornada de Vacunación en Ciudad con Gran Población Hispana, Telemundo [en español]
Dallas Area Interfaith has been working to help stop the spread of COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic. The group, which has members from all religious groups, particularly saw a need for vaccinations in immigrant congregations.
“They are already fearful, they have a fear of the government, our approach is that you reach people in the institution that they trust most, that is closest to them and their family and those are our congregations,” lead organizer Josephine Lopez Paul said.
DAI surveyed the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 and mapped out where their congregations were located. They found that the nine areas with high rates of infection in Dallas were within their congregations.
“The most need in our membership has been among Roman Catholics, especially those who are undocumented,” Paul said.
DAI so far has had vaccination events at four area churches where more than a thousand people total were vaccinated....
Parishioners of Holy Trinity and DAI took the initiative to set up the vaccination event on June 17, partnering with Baylor Scott & White Health and DAI. Baylor and the members canvassed the area prior to the event to sign people up.
Although vaccines are easy to find in Dallas, [parochial vicar Father Mike] Walsh knew that some of his parishioners would feel more comfortable getting vaccinated at church.
“We just know that immigrants especially will get vaccinated at church even though it’s very easy to find a free vaccine,” Walsh said. “They trust church.”
Many Faith Leaders in North Texas Embracing their Role in Vaccine Push, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Over a year after losing their jobs to pandemic-related causes, Elizabeth remains unemployed, and her husband, a landscaper, is only able to get work once a week. Elizabeth says she knows that her family, theoretically, qualifies for the Covid-19 rent relief: they are below 80% of the Area Median Income and experienced financial hardships due to the pandemic.
But Elizabeth says she can’t afford to rely on theoretical assistance. With a family of five, including a 1 year-old, her primary concern is staying housed—even if it means cutting back on other essentials to pay rent.
“I have cut back on food, my internet, PG&E,” she says.
Elizabeth first heard about the Covid-19 rent relief program at a local food bank. It was there that she met a leader from Communities Organized for relational Power in Action (COPA), a faith-based nonprofit addressing issues like affordable housing. The COPA leader told her about the eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91—now updated as Assembly Bill 832....
The updated bill attempts to correct the gaps that excluded certain renters from the first round of applications. For instance, the new bill allows tenants with informal leases to qualify, requires either the tenant or the landlord to apply (the former bill required both parties to apply) and distributes $250,000 to Community Bridges to help facilitate in-person assistance and outreach —a critical component given the application must be submitted online.
COPA advocated for these changes and more, like 100% of back-rent forgiveness, up to three months of future rent, assistance with utility arrears and tenant records during the pandemic to be “masked,” or hidden, which are now included in the updated bill.
“Of course there’s still some obstacles, but I think what we have now is much better than what we saw initially,” says COPA organizer Mayra Bernabe.
But even though some obstacles were removed, their impact lingers, Bernabe says. “I know some of our families have mistrust for our government programs, because of the way they’ve been rolled out before,” she says.
[Photo: COPA leader Raymond Cancino, Executive Director of Community Bridges attests to hurdles in the process. Credit: Tarmo Hannula, Good Times]
Red Tape and 'Shadow Debt' Are Pushing Renters to the Edge, Good Times [pdf]
Churches in Brazoria County, with its county seat being in Angleton, are helping residents still hurting from the pandemic’s financial fallout to apply for rental assistance through a recent $11.3 million federal grant, community leaders say.
The monies became available June 14 after Church and community leaders met with Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta earlier in the spring. They specifically asked him how they could help distribute the funds so it wouldn’t be sent back to the federal government as had been considered.
A contingency of three Catholic priests, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) nonprofit and other church groups, including Grace Episcopal, met with the county judge back in March.
“We let the county judge know that we have volunteers to help with the paperwork and we have those in dire need of assistance,” said Sister Maureen O’Connell, director of the Secretariat for Social Concerns.
“Poor and vulnerable people trust the Church more. So this collaboration between government and Church groups is a wonderful opportunity to help them,” she said.
[Photo Credit: Catholic News Service]
$11.3 Million Approved for Brazoria County Residents Struggling With Rent in Pandemic, Texas Catholic Herald
With the deadline fast approaching on a statewide renter eviction moratorium, the California Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), including Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Catholic Diocese of San José, is calling for an extension of the eviction moratorium and amendment of SB 91 to allow more flexibility with rental assistance.
“Hundreds of families on the Central Coast are barely keeping a roof over their heads — we need more time and more flexibility to give them the support they need to stay housed,” wrote Mayra Bernabe of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action in an email. “The state has the funds, they need to act to get them distributed to our families while protecting them from eviction.”
More than 500 activists organizing beneath the umbrella of the California Industrial Areas Foundation coalition, including affiliate COPA — a regional nonprofit consisting of 27 dues-paying member institutions across Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties — gathered for a statewide rally via Zoom Thursday night, participated in a call to action in seeking to extend the state’s rental eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91 or the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act, by an additional six months....
Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who spoke in favor of the state’s previous extension of SB 91, warned in January of a coming “wave of homelessness” without the legislation. Prior to COVID-19, Rivas said, some 3.3 million households in California already were living paycheck to paycheck.
“COVID-19 is a financial disaster that no household could have prepared for – and it’s our black and brown communities who are feeling the worst impacts of the virus,” said Rivas, whose district extends into Watsonville. “Not only are Latinos disproportionately more likely to contract the virus than the general population, but they are more likely to have lost their jobs due to the subsequent recession. Latinos, who make up 38 percent of the workforce, account for 50 percent of statewide job losses since the start of the pandemic, and those who lost their jobs overwhelmingly rent.”
The event was held at St. Maria Gorretti Catholic Church, in a neighborhood in New Orleans East with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the city at just under 7 percent as of March 31. For two weeks canvassers from Together Louisiana walked the area’s streets, handing out flyers and attempting to make appointments for people who hadn’t already been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
For the group’s last canvassing effort, they brought along the band.
As demand for COVID-19 vaccine declines, public health officials say on-the-ground efforts like this are what’s needed....For canvassers Mimi Ayers and Katie Perry, engagement looks like sharing their vaccination stories whenever people they encounter have questions about the experience. “I'll say, ‘I got vaccinated. I did the Moderna shot. Here were my symptoms.’ Because I think it helps a lot for them to have a real person in front of them who's taken it. One person actually [told me] that,” Perry said.
...The Together Louisiana approach is derived from the organization’s efforts to engage voters during elections. The nonprofit is a partner in the Louisiana Department of Health’s “Bring Back Louisiana” campaign to reach herd immunity against the coronavirus....
“What can make something exciting more than food and music, particularly for New Orleans?” Lloyd of Together Louisiana said. “When you went canvassing and told people, ‘Hey, we're having this event, come on out, anyone who comes out can get vaccinated, and we're also going to have fish and a brass band, people's faces lit up.”...Together Louisiana plans to host another event at St. Maria Gorretti on May 29 to provide second shots for patients who got first doses on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Bobbi-Jeanne Misick, New Orleans Public Radio
The Latest Phase of Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Is Slow, Deliberate and on the Ground, New Orleans Public Radio [pdf]
Monica Dorsey said about 500 homes in Maryvale were visited on Saturday and that she "absolutely" believes the effort will translate into higher vaccination rates.
She said the goal is to vaccinate between 1,500 and 1,800 people through May, adding that it is the "best feeling in the world" to know that Maryvale, and the larger Phoenix area, would be safer because of it.
Dorsey said the door-to-door efforts are also a key part in disseminating vaccine information, adding that "personal contact seems to make so much of a difference."
"Everybody is convinced social media is the way to reach people, but if you want to really, really reach them, you have to see them, talk to them, find out what's on their mind, hear their stories," she said. "It's so important and it is effective and we'll stay at it until percentages get where they need to be."
[Photo Credit: Drake Presto, The Republic]
Valley Interfaith Project (VIP) leaders, with the Daughters of Charity Sisters at St. Elizabeth and St. Cabrini Catholic Churches have begun knocking on doors and talking about the vaccine with residents around St. Vincent de Paul Church to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to get vaccinated.
[Photo Credit: Univision]
Invitan a la Comunidad a Vacunarse Contra el Coronavirus este 5 de Mayo en el Condado Maricopa, Univision [Video]
[At the beginning of the pandemic] members of community groups 'Mujeres en Acción' and 'Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action' (COPA) began meeting twice a week at the onset of the pandemic to figure out what community needs were after seeing the virus negatively impact their neighborhoods. They began making hundreds of phone calls to locals, going to their respective churches, schools and other places of gathering, building a list and figuring out what people needed to stay safe – and financially afloat – as the pandemic progressed.
“What we were finding is people almost knew that they have symptoms or believed that they were infected but they couldn’t afford to stay home,” says Maria Elena Manzo, program manager for Mujeres en Acción....
Organizers made a list of things they believed were needed to slow the spread of the virus in the hard-hit farmworker community. The list included better communication from employers about potential exposure and wage replacement for those who miss work due to self-quarantine.
Organizers met with Monterey County Health [officials, and] later began working with a wider group of community leaders, including representatives from the agriculture and hospitality industries and Community Foundation for Monterey County, called the Covid-19 Collaborative.
In December 2020, they presented to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, who voted to approve a $4.9 million budget for a community health worker program. That program, called VIDA (for Virus Integrated Distribution of Aid), is currently funding over 110 community health workers across 10 organizations, Mujeres en Acción among them, to provide resources to people in the communities that are hardest hit. One of the groups, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, is providing information in Triqui, Zapoteco and Mixteco, indigenous languages from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in Mexico that are all spoken in Monterey County.
“One way to stop the spread was to hire people from the community as trusted messengers to talk to people to help them understand the need of being safe, using masks and distancing and all that,” Manzo says.
[Photo Credit: Jose Angel Juarez/Monterey County Weekly]
Fielding A Virus-The Agricultural Season is Ramping Up For the Second Time During a Pandemic. Is the County Ready?, Monterey County Weekly [pdf]