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Behind the Mask of Courage During COVID-19
Antonia Ehlers, director of communications
 

On a sunny Saturday morning a few weeks ago, families of migrant workers lined up outside the Half Moon Bay library for bags of food and supplies. They also were given 50 vibrant, patterned masks made by Nueva students. Although they have faced numerous challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, the migrant families chatted with one another and smiles were abundant.

It all started when my friend, Jeannie Barrett, started a coastside outreach program from her home in San Mateo. Jeannie gave everything to her friend, Ayudando Latinos A Soñar (ALAS) founder and Director Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, Ed.D. A Latino-centered nonprofit, ALAS began as a grassroots program in 2011. 

“Our work honors the cultural strengths that thrive in our Latino coastal community,” Belinda explained. “We believe that cultura inspires and heals the soul, opening doors for community leadership and engagement. We are grateful to everyone who has poured love into ALAS to give us wings to fly and be there for the community.”

When I heard that our Nueva students were making masks to help during the pandemic, I asked Nueva Equity and Social Justice Director Alegria Barclay if we could spare some for ALAS. She quickly jumped in, gathered all sorts of colorful creations, and asked Jen Paull to drop them on my doorstep.

“In helping to organize the large-scale mask-making on the part of students and parents, we were hoping to achieve a couple of goals,” Alegria noted. “First and foremost, we wanted to help anyone in need of help, and we were particularly interested in providing masks to those populations less visible in the media—including farmworkers, homeless people, and people with disabilities. A secondary goal was to provide a space for students who were feeling helpless in the face of the pandemic an opportunity to channel their feelings into some concrete actions. Doing so has a host of benefits, including encouraging empathy, strengthening resilience, and promoting the social good.” 

ALAS' programs include culturally centered mental health services, immigration and social justice advocacy, and an educational program. In just one week, Jeannie and her friends raised close to $1,500 in cash and gift cards, as well as more than 50 bags of toiletries, food, and clothing. 

“I drew upon the kindness of other local families,” Jeannie said. “I have admired the work Belinda has done over the years, specifically with the migrant farm families here in California and as far away as Texas. Right now, the urgency is so great because many of those families rely on work provided by ALAS. Throughout the pandemic, ALAS has not stopped its services. More than 100 cars come through every Saturday—the need is vast for these migrant families on the coast.”

I was particularly touched by the story of a 13-year-old boy named Marcos, who recently lost his mother during COVID-19 to cancer. She was a dishwasher at a local coffeehouse, and his dad tirelessly works two back-breaking jobs. The coastside community has taken Marcos under its wing during this devastating time. When I brought the masks to Marcos and Belinda, I learned that it was Marcos’ 13th birthday. 

“Seeing the donations from Nueva arrive and the smile on Marcos' face really infused love into our program and gave hope during this difficult time,” Belinda said. “Knowing that we have partners in San Mateo at such an amazing school gives us wings to keep going, especially during COVID. While the news increases about disparities and the numbers rising of Latino deaths related to COVID, keeping our community safe means so much. Thank you Nueva, Jeanne, and friends! Today, we are stronger because of you!"

For more information about ALAS, please visit http://www.alashmb.org/about.html.

 



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