Many first generation immigrants work in restaurants, agriculture, and other less than stable jobs. While some of Yolo County’s most dedicated and skilled educators and medical professionals come from immigrant families, those professionals are generally second or third generation members of the community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, YIIN recognized the importance of keeping first generation immigrant families, whose children will become our attorneys, medical personnel, legislative leaders, educators, from suffering food insufficiency and even loss of housing. The parents in these families were without work or worked at their peril. Their children were without school, which is often a souce of both physical and intellectual food.
A group of socially active community members sought out YIIN to create a program that could assist immigrant families during the pandemic. Through our combined efforts, YIIN began ApoYolo, roughly translated from the Spanish as “support/help Yolo.” ApoYolo assembled a team of culturally competent, trained bilingual volunteers to identify and work with families with undocumented members to assist them with obtaining available services from the Yolo Food Bank, Empower Yolo and local clinics. We raised funds, in partnership with other community groups, to help families pay rent and utilities. The ApoYolo program coordinated and deployed forty plus volunteers across the county. It served as many as 65 immigrant families.
Read further for more details on how COVID-19 affected our communities and how YIIN and ApoYolo addressed the resulting needs.
What critical needs has COVID-19 created?
Yolo County is rare, as its residents span the humblest of agricultural workers and the most erudite of university research-focused professors. No one is immune to the threats of COVID-19, yet those at greatest risk for a personal economic catastrophe are clearly our immigrant neighbors. Although Governor Newsom established a fund to give financial support to undocumented workers in California left out by the federal stimulus programs, that fund was not adequate to meet the essential needs of immigrant families during the pandemic. YIIN was able to provide such assistance here in Yolo County through the ApoYolo program.
In addition, because of YIIN’s longstanding work at the Madison and Davis migrant centers, we were acutely aware that farm worker families would face great risks from the pandemic as they work in the fields and in the canneries. Because their work made it difficult for them to practice social distancing and rigorous hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, farm workers were particularly vulnerable to contracting the virus and bringing it home to their families. When they fell sick, they were unable to rely on sick leave benefits. Their children, whose education is normally compromised by the fact that they relocate frequently, faced greater challenges than most during this period of disruption.
8During the height of the pandemic many families across Yolo County and the world faced and continue to face dire food shortages. Certainly many of the people that YIIN supported financially in the past would need even more assistance during this time. The sad truth is that the work done by the immigrants amongst us is essential to our economy yet we do not afford them the financial security they deserve.
How did our community help us address these needs?
YIIN became involved in the plight of a Mexican mother whose husband was deported just before the shelter-in-place order was announced. This mother of three was left with no way to pay rent and utilities; the library technician in whom she confided was quick to see YIIN as a potential source of emergency relief. From that experience burgeoned ApoYolo. We refined the identification process and built economic strength starting in Davis, then expanded throughout the county.
YIIN’s goal is to serve as many people in the Yolo immigrant community as possible, varying our programs to meet the needs of different areas. During the COVID-19 pandemic the needs exploded and funding diminished. The COVID crisis caused YIIN to cancel its annual fundraiser dinner, which has historically been its primary source of revenue. Unable to rely on usual sources of aid during this extraordinary time of need, YIIN was more reliant than ever on community involvement and support.
The ApoYolo program ended in the Fall of 2021 after the majority of families were able to return to work and school. During the 18-month period ApoYolo and YIIN were able to raise and distribute more than $300,000 to the families in the ApoYolo project. No family lost its housing or lacked food support.