Red Cross AmeriCorps member Victoria Ramirez-Gomez told a version of this story on our “Close to the Vest: Alone/Together” livestream event. Full video below.
I want to share with you an experience I had in Westlake Pico-Union. I just want to emphasize that it’s because of experiences and moments like the one I am going to share that I decided to sign on for another year of service with the Red Cross. I just felt like there was so much more to do.
One of the days I was helping out in Westlake Pico-Union was a Saturday morning, really early. It was six or seven in the morning when we got there. As we were driving in, I remember seeing a really long line that was wrapped around the entire block.
There was actually a food distribution taking place at the same time and the intention was that we were going to hand out packets that had masks in them and also share information on disaster preparedness and COVID safety. The masks were especially needed because this community had been so heavily impacted by COVID.
When we got there, I started talking to one of the volunteers doing the food distribution. He told me that a lot of people that were in the line that day, and that had been coming for months, would start lining up at midnight the night before. They would wait out there all night just to get food in the morning.
At this point, I had done a lot of work distributing food with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), so I know the need that there was for this type of service. But it still never sits well with you to know how much the pandemic had affected people, as they struggled to meet a basic need like food.
The people in line were still waiting for the doors to open so they could get their food. So we grabbed the packets and decided to go to them, rather than wait for them to finish getting their food. By then, they probably would just want to go home.
We walked the line and we handed out the packets. We talked to people, providing them with the masks and sharing information with them. I talked to so many people that day, but one person in particular stood out to me.
It was an older gentleman. To be honest, he reminded me of my grandpa. He was also an immigrant, like my parents and my grandparents. And when I started speaking to him in Spanish, his whole demeanor changed. He just got really comfortable.
I am a member of the Latino Engagement Team, so I know the need and the importance of having people that really represent the community as well and are able to communicate with them.
So we started talking and I shared with him the reason why I was there, and gave him the packet and the mask. He talked about how all of this had really impacted him. And how he had lost someone back home to the virus.
The fact that we were able to connect on a deeper level and have that conversation was impactful, because he didn’t know about a lot of the services the Red Cross had to offer, like the services we provide during a disaster. He was pretty familiar with our blood collection work, but that was pretty much it.
As I walked away, we said our goodbyes. I was thankful that I was able to give him a new understanding of what we do and that we don’t care about anything (like immigration status), we just want to help.
As I walked away, I saw him pull a mask out of the bag and put it on. I had noticed his own mask was really worn and so seeing him put on the new one, I was thankful that I was given the opportunity as a Red Crosser to help, to go out into the community and make a really personal connection.
Because sometimes we are limited in what we can do, but the impact that we make on a personal level just by being there is also really important.
I am thankful I got that opportunity and I hope with him at least I was able to give a new understanding of the work that we do.