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La Luz: ‘We need help’ here in Sonoma

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The Valley’s Latino community is turning to La Luz Center for financial, emotional and logistical help in record numbers as it copes with the fallout of the coronavirus. And La Luz’s crisis fund is draining fast.

The first week of sheltering-in-place, La Luz answered 65 calls from clients in need, most of whom had lost their jobs. Last week there were 153 requests, “And we expect that number to double or triple around the first of the month,” executive director Juan Hernandez said.

At the beginning of March La Luz had $50,000 in its crisis fund. It gave out $16,000 last week to clients in emergency situations. With the resources draining Hernandez immediately launched a fundraising drive hoping 1,500 community members will donate $100 each.

“We are getting calls from people we have never assisted before,” Hernandez said. “We have clients who are not familiar with how to apply for unemployment or where to go to get donated food because they have been working all their lives.”

The doors of the La Luz building in the Springs are closed and its employees are working from their homes, remotely assisting clients on the phone. Messages are taken on the main line and “We are triaging the calls to our staff.”

“Leave a message and we will get back to you right away,” he said, wanting to be sure that people understand that although the doors are closed the avenues of help are open.

While loss of income is a primary concern for the majority the needs are far-ranging. “People are asking how do I help my kids with their school work when I only have a fifth grade education? They don’t understand what’s happening with the coronavirus. It is confusing to people,” Hernandez said.

“Need for food is the big issue,” he said, and the staff directs callers to locations throughout the Valley that are distributing free food supplied by the Redwood Empire Food Bank. Last Friday 110 boxes of food were given out at Flowery Elementary School, placed directly into cars to maintain social distancing. “We gave out all we had and turned away about 40 or 50 cars,” he said.

“People who can read knew right away what to do,” he said, “But for many of our clients the magnitude of the problem is taking longer to understand.”

He explained because of sheltering-in-place, “There’s no hustle. You can’t go out and sell your tires. There is no way to make exchanges to raise a little money in a way people have relied on in the past.”

Added Hernandez: “This crisis goes to show that, for all of us, life can change in an instant. But often with just one call we are able to connect people with the resources they need.”

Hernandez said La Luz had helped people through other crises in recent years — the 2017 firestorm, fear and uncertainty about immigration status and deportation, and the PG&E power outages last fall. “This one feels different because we are doing it remotely,” he said. The calming effect of face-to-face contact is missing.

In speaking with the Index-Tribune last Saturday, exhausted from managing his team and their clients and two weeks of innumerable phone calls, Hernandez paused, and then continued as if he had only one thing he could think of left to say.

“We need help,” he said. “Help me help our clients.”

For information on La Luz, visit laluzcenter.org.

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