[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]
In late December, COPA leaders celebrated the unanimous decision by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to invest nearly $5 million in a six-month Community Outreach & Education pilot program targeting neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. This program will hire 100 community health workers -- trusted people from community-based organizations -- starting January 1, 2021. These trained workers will help educate families, as well as connect people who test positive with needed services, including temporary housing for quarantine or isolation, cash assistance, food, medical care and information about employment rights. Workers will target the hardest hit Census tracts.
The program proposal, created by COPA’s “Breaking the Chain” team, was based on more than 2,000 conversations with Monterey County families impacted by COVID-19, and is similar to other programs in California. In the midst of the pandemic, leaders from COPA’s 28 member institutions launched a listening campaign in which they heard stories about the need for rental assistance; access to testing, tracing, and supported isolation; and access to education and distance learning resources.
Allies spoke in support of the proposal including Building Healthy Communities, Center for Community Advocacy, California Rural Legal Assistance, the Monterey County Farm Bureau, Catholic Diocese of Monterey and the Hospitality Industry Association.
When the pandemic struck, it was hard for anyone to know what to do in the face of a whole new kind of uncertainty. Community organizer Maria Elena Manzo did what she knew how to do best: She organized. Manzo works for COPA, Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action. She and her COPA colleagues began early in the pandemic meeting twice a week via Zoom to figure out how they would help mostly Latino workers in the hospitality and agriculture sectors get through the crisis.
Through COPA’s connections, mainly through the group Mujeres en Acción, Manzo and others have made more than 1,600 phone calls since March. They listen to the stories people tell and write them down.
“There were all these stories of how people didn’t know where to go to get tested, or once they got tested they didn’t know what to do or where they could go,” Manzo says. “The list goes on and on.”
COPA volunteer Adriana Molina lost her 65-year-old father to Covid-19 in September. The family believes he contracted the virus at work in the fields.
“Sometimes we asked him to stay home, but he says, ‘I’m fine. I need to work for my rent,’” Molina recalls him saying before his illness.
COPA organizers contacted the County Board of Supervisors and the Health Department over the summer, “so they can see where the gaps are,” Manzo says.
Since then, they’ve met with Health Officer Edward Moreno and Epidemiologist Kristy Michie strategizing how COPA and the Health Department could work together. From there, a wider group with other county representatives and representatives from agriculture and hospitality was formed that they call “Breaking the Chain of Infection.”
Because of the state’s Health Equity Metric, identifying gaps matters to everyone in Monterey County who wants to reopen. As COPA organizers have been working, so have leaders in the Monterey Peninsula’s hospitality sector, whose fate is now tied to controlling the virus in farmworker communities in the Salinas Valley.
[Photo Credit: Parker Seibold/Monterey County Weekly]
COPA Leverages $2 Million for EsperanzaCare - Healthcare for Low-Income Undocumented in Monterey County
What started out in 2015 as a $500,000 pilot from Monterey County became a bonafide $2 million health initiative to cover the uninsured in 2017. Esperanza Care gives basic healthcare to undocumented residents who are not covered by state or federal subsidized insurance, and was renewed by the  Board of Supervisors in the 2020-2021 county budget. Esperanza Care came about thanks to efforts of community groups like the local branch of Community Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA).
COPA leader María Elena Manzo says that Esperanza Care came out of the county trying to fill a major hole in Medi-Cal, and relentless advocacy work:
“We have it because we kept showing up. [The county supervisors] couldn’t ignore us,”
she says. Esperanza Care costs $2 million annually.
The Buzz 07.16.20, Monterey Weekly
In an event convened by COPA, clergy and judicatories from Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Jewish backgrounds called on the business community to join them in a collective effort to identify solutions to the lack of immigration reform. Immigrants shared stories about the impact of legalization in the 1980s and the challenges of providing for family without authorization to work.
In turn, agricultural industry leader Wesley Van Camp of agribusiness Tanimura & Antle reaffirmed her commitment to fight for immigration reforms and pointedly noted the absence of industry leaders in construction and hospitality in advocacy efforts. "I take that on as a bit of a challenge," said Don Chapin of Chapin Construction " I couldn't agree more."Read more
The expanded program will provide at least 2,500 low-income undocumented residents, including farm workers and their families, with full-scope primary and preventative care, labs, radiology, medication and specialty services. A third-party administrator will be hired to issue enrollment cards, administer payments and track data.Read more
At COPA's urging, the Board approved the creation of a strategic plan and simplified "access point document" to better spread the word about healthcare access to the uninsured; both are to be produced within 90 days.Read more