The spread of the coronavirus in Iowa continues to increase, causing many of us in the immigrant community to worry for the most vulnerable among us: undocumented immigrants. Individuals are living in the shadows for lack of documentation in this country, but are working hard to make a living and help Iowa’s economy thrive.
They may be your neighbor or the ones cooking your meal in the back of your favorite restaurant. Some likely built your house, fixed your roof or cleaned your office. They are the backbone of the service, hospitality, manufacturing and construction industries in our state. Many of these undocumented workers have two or even three jobs, yet they live in poverty.
The American Immigration Council reported that undocumented immigrants in Iowa paid an estimated $36.7 million in state and local taxes in 2014. Their contribution would rise to $45.6 million if they could receive legal status. Regardless of their contributions, they don’t have access to any of the government aid and benefits available to the rest of us. Not before the coronavirus hit, and not now.
The $2 trillion rescue package passed by the U.S. Senate a few days ago will be a tremendous relief for millions struggling due to the pandemic. But the benefits in that package will not cover undocumented persons.
It is at times of crisis when we see the best and the worst in humanity. My choice is to look for the good in all of us and the acts of kindness that make a difference and warm our hearts. Uncertainty permeates our daily lives and we receive new information all the time. In moments like this, it is kindness that gives us hope. Individuals helping others just because they care, because it is the right thing to do. Such kindness creates a ripple effect that becomes contagious.
Social media has been a great resource to learn of different efforts taking place in Iowa and the world. Scrolling through my Facebook I noticed that Zuli Garcia, with whom I serve on a board, had started a project to help the undocumented immigrants. Zuli has responded to Latinos in moments of need in the past, and when the pandemic hit, she got to work. She told me, “Once the Governor ordered restaurants to close, I thought of many people I know who would need help. I started thinking of ways I could assist them since I knew how much this was going to impact businesses and families in our community. I started by making some calls asking for food donations.”
After receiving and delivering food by herself, she asked for volunteers that could help deliver food to families and the elderly, and that’s how the Knock and Drop program began. This is a new program, yet it has provided food for more than two hundred families in need.
Many of the recipients of Zuli’s program come from countries where government corruption creates more poverty. Under such circumstances, individuals must become resourceful and creative to survive without a safety net. Garcia led fundraisers in the past and collected food for families in distress for different reasons.
I was curious about what drives her passion. Zuli said, “My parents moved from El Salvador to Los Angeles when I was only a year old. They were undocumented, so as I got older, I saw their struggle and how not knowing the language and the system made them more vulnerable. I also remember my dad’s words, ‘If you can help others, you have to help.’ For that and many other reasons I’ll always be grateful to him.”
She also fell in love with a man that was undocumented nine years ago and married him. He has been a big supporter of all her ideas to help the community. All these life experiences have played a role in her dedication and efforts to help.
This global crisis has managed to bring our community together. Latino business owners are donating food, community members are donating money and time to help ease some of the difficulties brought about due to the lack of work and availability of any other assistance.
Laura is one of those that have been adversely impacted by the lack of resources for undocumented persons. She lost her job as a waitress and her husband was laid off and is now working part time. They bought a house this past December for their family and her husband’s part time job is not enough to buy food and pay the bills for their four children.
“I was really worried when we were laid off and had a hard time buying food for our kids,” Laura said. “Then I applied for assistance with the Knock and Drop program. They brought us fruit, vegetables, ham, cheese, and even toilet paper. We are so grateful for the help.”
Latino business owners are also supporting this effort. Mayra Espinoza, owner of Allende Food Service, donated fruits, vegetables, tortillas, rice, beans and other goods for this program.
“I believe this is a humanitarian crisis and we are going through difficult times, so if you have more, you have to share what you have,” she said. “Helping others is more important than making money at this point.”
Another contributor is Agustin Mendez, who is the owner of Rumcoqui. Rumcoqui is a delicious coconut cream liqueur from Puerto Rico produced in Iowa. He had the opportunity to buy cases of hand sanitizer from a distillery to ship to his native Puerto Rico and to give away to people in need here in Iowa. Agustin donated sanitizer to Knock and Drop. He believes we need to help each other at this time of great need.
Not long ago, before COVID-19, Latinos and non-Latinos were all arguing over politics. The division was causing so much tension in our lives and now we realize that at the end of the day, we are all human. The virus does not discriminate based on race, income, immigration status or lack of documentation. It does not look at political affiliation or age. We all have the same fears; we want to protect our families, friends, neighbors and those who are most vulnerable in the face of this crisis. During this time of social distancing and quarantine, love, kindness and gratitude are making their way back into society, into our lives. Values that I thought were forgotten.
If you want to donate to this effort please go to Knock and Drop COVID-19 funds on Facebook. A thousand gracias to the many Zuli’s out there.
by Claudia Thrane