Adriana Molina lost her father to COVID-19 in September. Since March she has volunteered with Mujeres en Acción to distribute information about the pandemic | Photo by Claudia Meléndez Salinas
By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
It took Adriana Molina almost 20 years in the United States before she dared to leave the safety of her home and become involved in the community. By the time the pandemic rocked the world like the San Andreas Fault shakes California from time to time, Molina had been civically engaged for four years.
Through the local organization Mujeres en Acción, Molina began promoting information on how and where COVID-19 tests could be done. Later, she directed people where they could get resources: food, gift cards, rent assistance, anything that could help the community. When assistance funds began to arrive for undocumented families, she also helped spread the information.
One day Molina’s father told her: I didn’t know you liked doing this kind of work. Never stop doing it.
Those words echo in her mind when she wants to give up. And after 10 months of dealing with the pandemic, and four months after her father died, she draws strength from them to continue with her community work.
“I have a hard time doing what I do,” said Molina, an immigrant from Nayarit, Mexico, and mother of five children. “There are people who tell me what they are going through and it is the same experience I had or I’m having, and I’m the one giving encouragement. We have to be strong because we have to help more people who need our support. And taking care of ourselves and everything, is what I’m doing. I feel that in everything I’m doing my dad is saying, ‘Very good, that’s great.’”
For those of us who spend a lot of time “doom scrolling” on social media and see super-isolated people desperate for creative occupations — baking muffins, putting together puzzles, cleaning their closets — it’s hard sometimes to realize that the world continues to turn for thousands of people. Life continues to go on outside, at hospitals, in stores, in the fields. Those workers have not had the luxury of staying at home during forced confinement.
Having to work to pay the rent is one thing. But there is an additional class of pandemic workers: the volunteers who spent their time distributing food, information and other services that are not easy for ordinary people to access. Molina falls into that category, and her colleagues from Mujeres en Acción, which emerged as an organizing force to combat the effects of the pandemic in the community.
After thousands of calls to people affected by COVID-19, the women of Mujeres en Acción presented to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors a pilot program to help contain the pandemic. which has devastated the Latino community. The program was approved in December, and is in the process of being established this month.
The core function of the Community Health Workers Program is to help those hardest hit by COVID-19 navigate the service bureaucracy. Where to find food. Where to find rental assistance. If you have to isolate yourself, who to ask for help.
Not surprisingly, it has been Latina women — members of the community most affected by the pandemic — who organized to respond to the community’s most urgent needs.
“Something that is shining brightly is that there is a lot of leadership within our Latino community willing to accept the challenge of seeking solutions to their needs,” said Monterey County management analyst Rosamaria Soto. “Of all the pieces in this program, the most important are the people who do the fieldwork.”
Mujeres en Acción began in 2015 with the idea of helping immigrant Latinas reach their economic potential. The women have four groups — in Castroville, Salinas, Greenfield and Soledad — and even before the pandemic they met once a week to help each other create goals and support each other to overcome obstacles. When COVID-19 broke out in the community, Mujeres redoubled meetings, and ideas of how to help the community began to rain. It was through informational forums, meetings and more boards that they designed a program to help the community.
“Something that is shining brightly is that there is a lot of leadership within our Latino community willing to accept the challenge of seeking solutions to their needs” Rosamaria Soto, Monterey County management analyst
“We knew we had to do something and until we agreed on what we were learning, we realized the need for the county to invest more in this problem, that this was not going to stop until we were all working together,” said Maria Elena Manzo, program manager of Mujeres en Acción. “In November we presented a proposal to (Supervisor Luis) Alejo to help isolate (those affected), we asked for the means for people to stay at home. We can’t say, ‘Stay home and deal with it however you can.’”
Part of the problem has been the lack of a central place of information. A person who falls ill with COVID-19 has to make dozens of calls for hours to find what they need. The pilot program seeks to close that information gap and more. The community health workers who are being hired, such as Adriana Molina, will help participants “navigate” the system. These community health workers will help not only with calls, but with concrete aid such as food deliveries to prevent affected families from leaving their homes.
“Even though there were resources, (those affected) needed someone to help them navigate, ” Manzo said. “They are not easy to access for ordinary people.”
Molina’s parents came to the United States in 2000, four years before she arrived. From the beginning they dedicated themselves to working in the fields, cultivating the sweet potato that predominates in that area of the Central Valley of California.
When the pandemic began, Molina tried to convince her parents to move in with her so they wouldn’t have to leave their home and be exposed to the virus. Pedro Molina, her father, refused.
“The decision to continue working is neither yours nor mine,” he told her. “I have never liked feeling like a burden to anyone, it would be more expensive. Just leave me here, with what I earn I pay my rent and my food.”
After not seeing her sister for years, Molina decided to visit her in Virginia in August. The day she flew out, she tried to call her father but he did not answer. She persisted but never got a response. Later Molina found out he was found unconscious in his room and an ambulance had to take him to the hospital, where he stayed for three weeks. Pedro Molina died on Sept. 12 of COVID-19, without seeing any members of his family again.
“I told him not to go out … but he worked 10 hours a day. The only place where he had contact with people was the fields,” said Adriana Molina. “Young people think that (the virus) does not affect them, but it does affect other people. I think that’s what happened to my dad. Some irresponsible person there thought that nothing was going to happen, he thought ‘I’m young, I’m healthy,’ but something did happen to my dad.”
Molina believes the community health worker program will make a difference and help prevent unnecessary deaths of farm workers. Eventually, the program could also serve as a model to address other issues.
“Once it’s established and helping people who need it, and the pandemic is over, I think we can see a community health worker program to alleviate other problems,” Soto said. “Health workers are trusted messengers, they are people who have relationships with the community and these leaders can have a positive impact on the community.”
COVID Resources in Monterey County:
General Information Line: 211
Monterey County COVID Information Line: 831-769-7600
To register for the WhatsApp information line (in Spanish): 831-320-0864
Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System Coronavirus Information Line: 831-755-0793
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