The ideal world for me is where no one is hungry. We start by educating children. We make them plant a tree and make it work until it reaches the sky. I imagine children at school planting their little plants. Where we teach them how to sow because that way kids will invite their parents to sow their own plants, their own seeds and have their own crops at home. That is my dream, and it starts with education, both for children and later for parents. This is how I imagine a world, everyone in their garden harvesting their essential things.
There’s little Lourdez Estrada has not done as a leader in the Latina community. From facilitating classes like Seed to Supper (Siembra la Cena), to distributing food as well as basic necessities and garden supplies to families, to educating community members on the importance of being counted in the Census, Lourdez has impacted countless lives.
But it’s not just the volume of work that Lourdez does in the community that has made such a difference. Her lived experience makes her a trusted, beloved person in the Latina community — she knows what it is like to struggle with language barriers, need help and not knowing where to start, and feel disconnected in a new place.
“It is important that we have leaders who have suffered,” Lourdez shares, “because we know what people who are just arriving can go through due to lack of information. These groups exist to help people come close to us, so that we can confidently provide them with such information. Because we know what can happen if they don't have it.”
Lourdez also recognizes the importance of building trust: “It is important to break the ice first because many people are afraid to open up and say what they need. There are people who prefer not to say anything. It's like trying to earn their trust, but there are specific ways to do it. To get to the heart, more than the needs. Sometimes you can see [that someone has a need] with the naked eye, but we don't ask for it out of pride. And the leaders who have gone through similar experiences, who have struggled and lacked the basic things to meet their needs have what will connect [with them]. We can help a lot of people with what we ambassadors have at hand. Even if it's in a small amount, they can feel they are not alone.”
Lourdez’s volunteer work began at her daughters’ elementary school. Lourdez and the other moms created a moms’ group to organize the teachers’ rooms, make copies, and do other helpful tasks to take some of the load off the teachers’ plates. When the children made Lourdez and the other moms a thank you gift, she realized the ripple effect her volunteering had on her community.
“Each child wrote a small letter for me with their writing they can barely do,” Lourdez shares. “I saved them and I am going to keep them as a treasure, because it is heartwarming. I gave from my heart, and they gave back the same.”
During this time, Lourdez met Angelica Cortes (the 2019 Hunger Hero Award recipient, community ambassador, and Policy Leadership Council member). Angelica invited Lourdez to get involved with Growing Gardens and to start volunteering at a food distribution at her daughter’s school once a week.
In 2019, Lourdez started working with Doulas Latinas and their clients at the garden they built in the Powell Butte Neighborhood at the Powell Butte Garden. With support from Oregon Food Bank, she helped provide seeds to community members to protect their soil during the winter and invited others to make their own compost. During the second year, Lourdez had created a list of things needed by the other gardeners. Since she was part of the community, she knew what types of culturally-relevant crops they would want to plant including tomatoes, spicy peppers, and cilantro.
“The food bank's garden has that advantage, we can always look for food, seeds and plants that match the culture,” Lourdez shares.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the distributions Lourdez and her fellow community leaders were managing had to be completely revamped. But Lourdez was committed to continuing to serve her community.
With additional funds from Oregon Food Bank, Lourdez and her group were able to not only continue distributions, but also provide basic necessities such as toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, face masks, and hand sanitizer. Reflecting on the changes they made to distributions due to COVID-19, Lourdez says, “We could not do Siembra la Cena (Seed to Supper), or the classes because the space was very limited and everything was virtual… More than anything, we were thinking of the community, mainly of those who got sick and could not leave their house to buy these supplies because of the disease. We sent help to their doorsteps through an application that [Oregon Food Bank] helped us develop. At the beginning it went well. We kept receiving applications. But, later we realized a lot of people at home were benefiting from this. But the people leading the community and essential workers were not receiving help. Therefore, we redirected our help to focus on migrant farmworkers.”
In the height of the pandemic, Lourdez started volunteering to recruit people in her community to count themselves in the census. “In the case of the census we did it mainly because it is done every ten years. We know that the funds for the state government are assigned depending on the amount of people who are accounted for. Then they divide the funds to improve schools, roads and the overall wellbeing of the community. So, we must make ourselves count and we invited others to do it too. Many people used to think it was not important but when we explained what it was for and what the reasons for it were, and that we had to make ourselves count from the youngest baby to the oldest person, [they understood].”
After the census work was done, a group of leaders who eventually organized under the name Mano Amiga 2020 (and who are still running distributions today) joined together to start registering people in their community to vote. Lourdez shares the importance of being from and within a community while doing this kind of grassroots organizing:
“We come from countries where these things are not relevant. Sometimes when we get to this country, even if we are adults, we can't vote. Many of those who vote are young people. They are the future. It is important that parents educate their children and let them know the importance of registering, because the future depends on it.”
After hearing from community members that the pandemic was impacting their access to food resources, the group organized a new food distribution to help meet the increased need. Lourdez explains the specific impact the pandemic had on the Hispanic community: “The Hispanic community is in the fields. They are essential there and at restaurants. Many lost their jobs at first, and the kids weren’t in school… And when they received help like this, whether it was a grocery gift card or a foodbox, they were so grateful. It was a week without problems for them because the help that we gave was enough for each family. Many of these families were not receiving stimulus checks, they didn't have additional work hours, and sometimes they just would lower their work hours so much they didn't have enough to sustain their homes… The fields cannot stop producing and, in the end, it is the ones who don't work the fields who end up enjoying, eating and consuming what they are producing here and in all of the United States.”
This food distribution is still running today, with bi-monthly distributions supporting over 150 Spanish-speaking families. You can read more about Mano Amiga’s work and meet the other group members here.
When asked what a world without hunger would look like, Lourdez returns to where her volunteer work began and what inspired her to keep working to make a difference in her community:
“The ideal world for me is where no one is hungry. We start by educating children. We make them plant a tree and make it work until it reaches the sky. I imagine children at school planting their little plants. Where we teach them how to sow because that way kids will invite their parents to sow their own plants, their own seeds and have their own crops at home. That is my dream, and it starts with education, both for children and later for parents. This is how I imagine a world, everyone in their garden harvesting their essential things.”