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Community Leaders: Mano Amiga 2020

At Oregon Food Bank we believe that communities experiencing hunger are the experts of their own experiences. We develop programs and resources in collaboration with community leaders because we know that communities facing food insecurity already know how to support their most vulnerable members.

That is how the Mano Amiga 2020 group, originally known as the Latinx Leaders, was founded. Just before the pandemic began, a group of community leaders met to learn about gardening and medicinal herbs at the Oregon Food Bank Learning Gardens. Together, they became deeply engaged in civic engagement and community activism work. The group worked to register their communities to vote and count themselves in the 2020 Census. As the group prepared for door-to-door and in-person civic engagement work, the COVID pandemic emerged.

Community leaders made phone calls and hosted virtual gatherings and informational sessions about the legislative session and opportunities to provide testimony. Soon, they began to hear from community members that the pandemic was impacting their access to food resources. The Latinx Leaders contacted Oregon Food Bank for support. Their first food distribution took place at St. Michael Church in Boring, OR on June 11, 2020 where they handed out grocery gift cards and small bags of pantry staples. They saw the community needed more resources, so the group sought support from local churches and searched for a location to set up a more permanent distribution site. Their distributions moved to Santa Ana church in Gresham with a small group of Spanish-speaking families serving each other, maintaining social distance distributions and accepting suggestions for culturally-specific food. This distribution ran for over six months until October 2020 when they relocated to Santa Cruz church that November where the distributions continue to this day. Today, the Latinx Leaders host a bi-monthly distribution and support over 150 Spanish-speaking families. Their work has helped deepen relationships with other members of the Spanish-speaking community and recently, they began serving a significant number of Russian-speaking community members and some Ukrainian families.

Meet the Latinx Community Leaders:

“I think that we leaders come to the places where they (Oregon Food Bank) can't go, to those communities they can't reach. We need them, but they also need us because they might not be able to come to those most marginalized communities. So that is important. That we reciprocally need help from them and they need help from us. We have the hands, they have the resources. We have the heart, they have the resources. So everything is connected.” -Leticia Chávez
“I got involved because many times in my life I've been hungry, so I see the needs people have. When someone helps you, you see you're not alone. And that's what motivates me to do this, because I think, wow! If only I had seen so many of these resources back when I was hungry, it would have been such a relief for me. That's why I like being a volunteer.” -Angélica Cortés
“I do it because there's a need in our community. Because I see that green card holders and citizens have more help than undocumented people, and most of the community I know is undocumented, and I know that they need help. That's why I do it." -Reyna Reyes
“[One of the first distributions] was in Chaco. We were able to help many people, many families. From there we have grown as leaders. Something that I have liked the most, apart from the benefits we're bringing to the community, has been that the food bank has considered us and our own leaders in order to create our own policies and our own rules about how to work. And that's something very few agencies have.” -Anabertha Alvarado Martínez
“I have hope that there can indeed be a change, as there has been with the support of Oregon Food Bank and other organizations that have come together to give us food, information, and resources. So you can keep learning about how to prepare yourself. It's not just about receiving, but also about how you can support your family and others. I want to be able to keep walking with those who are coming and have a different future.” -Araceli Camacho
“It's important to have leaders who have suffered, because we know how people who can barely make it can suffer. Because they don't have knowledge, because they don't have information. If there are groups like this, it's so they can get closer to us or for us to give them that information with trust, because we already know what can happen. Sometimes it's perfectly obvious, but sometimes because of pride, we don't ask for things. And leaders with that experience, who have gone without, who have lacked even the most basic things, that is what is going to connect us to those people who have needs and don't know it.” -Lourdez Estrada
“I've said it many times – I've been in that situation. If someone had said to me, ‘Look, you can go here, get some food. They can help you with this.’ I'm telling you I wouldn't have suffered so much. And I try to help people understand that. So now I like being here, and my involvement is a way of trying to help people and get rid of those fears that I also had, because I didn't know either. Now I know, and I can pass along that information and give that confidence to the people who come here." -Maricela Polino
“When we started this, it was an idea to cover a need at that time. But there was a lot of need and a lot of fear in the community. There were people who practically wouldn't dare ask for food anywhere because there had been mention of the public charge rule. So, since we had that relationship with the community, we decided to do it [start food distributions]. And so we did one, and then we did another and then another until we made it happen and decided to continue and keep going." -Estela Bautista

*Editor’s note: The public charge rule allowed the U.S. government to deny a visa or permanent resident status to people likely to access government benefits. Under the former Trump administration, the public charge rule was interpreted broadly to reduce the number of people who were eligible for green cards and other visas. Many people feared accessing any type of benefits, including food, even through non-government entities. (Source)

“It's a very important connection, because without the contributions [Oregon Food Bank] makes, what can we give to the community? Even if someone wants to give something, but there's nothing, it's very difficult. And we're in a country of opportunities, where no one can get left behind, right? And so there are those opportunities to make the most of, exactly like the Oregon Food Bank ones.” -Noemi Osorio
“I have been a member of Oregon Food Bank for about 6 years as a volunteer and I am so happy to participate in this way. It is a great pleasure to be able to help our community. I am also an active Promotor de Salud at Santa Ana church and for Providence. I would love to see beneficial changes happen for all of the Hispanic communities across the U.S.” -Angel Bautista

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