Since 2011, Corazón Healdsburg has worked to bridge the racial and economic divide in the northern reaches of Sonoma County. Their work has made a big impact in the Latinx community, through adult education programs, financial counseling, health outreach, a bilingual drop-in resource center, emergency assistance, and more. They’ve been especially busy in recent years; first with providing assistance to fire survivors in 2017 and again during the Kincade Fire in 2019.

No strangers to emergency response, the team at Corazón quickly moved into action earlier this year when shelter-in-place orders were first implemented in March.

Like many local organizations, Corazón realized that food security would be an immediate issue for the community and they moved quickly to expand their emergency assistance program. That meant that instead of offering groceries and food distribution twice per month, they expanded to provide groceries every week. They were determined to continue their walk-up grocery service, and switching to offer a drive-thru service to fit social-distancing requirements.

“Where we would see 300 families in a month, we now see 300 families every week,” says Corazón CEO Ariel Kelley. “That equates to about 1,500 individuals.”

The drive-thru groceries also double as a way for Corazón to engage in outreach and education about the importance of the U.S. Census—a valuable message in the North County, where many of Corazón’s Latinx clients risk going uncounted without the additional outreach.

Adapting to Online Education

Corazón transitioned their adult educational programs to online only, working to train adult learners in using technology like Zoom to ensure their clients can still participate. They are also working to help students get access to computers and internet service, enabling them to participate in distance learning at school.

Kelley says that things like their renters insurance end emergency preparedness workshops have been successfully transitioned online. In fact, she says that an emergency preparedness workshop Corazón recently offered in preparation of the coming fire season—which would usually get a maximum of 75 people—had a whopping 2,900 on their Facebook Livestream.

While their on-site, drop-in resource center has closed, staff have moved services to virtual only, a move that Kelley says creates greater accessibility for clients who no longer need to make appointments or schedule big swaths of time to visit the office. Staff are all working remotely and Kelley says the transition to the new technology was made possible thanks in part to grant funds from Community Foundation Sonoma County.

“We have clients who live in Ukiah and Calistoga. That’s a long drive, especially if you’re low income and your family only has one car,” says Kelley. “There are some hardships with having to schlep to get here.”

Offering Financial Assistance

To support clients that have been directly impacted by COVID-19, either because of infections or job loss, Corazón is also administering a relief fund, similar to the support they provided during the Kincade Fire. Now they’re providing financial assistance to families and individuals who are suffering economic hardship because of COVID and shelter-in-place.

One of the relief funds is specifically for people who are COVID positive and can’t go to work because they’re sick.

“There are a number of people who don’t have paid sick leave, don’t qualify, or are unable to access benefits,” says Kelley. “They have to choose between going back to work and not telling anyone that they’re sick so they can make money and pay their bills, or stay home but then be unable to meet their financial burden.”

In addition to offering one-time financial assistance, Corazón provides the client with delivered meals; enough so that people can safely shelter-in-place for two weeks during quarantine.

The other program is a general fund for workers who are unable to access government-based financial support through federal stimulus payments or unemployment benefits.

Moving forward, Kelley says that they will assist clients with staying connected through technology as Corazón looks towards continuing preparations for fire season and the steady rise in local COVID-19 cases.

“We’re seeing an increase again in the need for food. And we had about 12 new applications from people from COVID just yesterday,” she says. “I worry that this is going to continue to grow so much bigger than we have any real grasp on.”

Story by Dani Burlison, photos by Bryan Meltz

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