For many people on the Peninsula and in Hampton Roads, the coronavirus pandemic has presented some challenges.
From figuring out how to file for unemployment and navigating food pantry donations to competing for toilet paper in grocery stores and ordering take-out through a smartphone app.
It’s even harder to navigate those services and benefits for those who don’t speak English — or those who speak very limited English.
Sandra Caballero, owner & director of Centro Hispano de Ayuda y Apoyo LLC., a “resource center” business in Williamsburg which connects the Spanish speaking community to various organizations, said there is no doubt the coronavirus and social distancing measures have affected the local Spanish speaking community in terms of employment.
“You have to think the entire hospitality industry…is staffed in great numbers by Spanish speaking members of the community,” she said. “All that has been pretty much shut down.”
While there are still delivery services such as GrubHub, DoorDash and Instacart hiring workers, the language barrier presents a challenge when drivers have to interact with grocery store workers and staff.
“Even the gig economy like we know is limiting when you don’t speak with English,” she said.
And for those who’ve been laid off or furloughed, they may not know how apply for unemployment.
“I remember at least two or three weeks ago, I received several, several calls of people wanting to apply for unemployment compensation but didn’t know how to do it,” Caballero said. “They don’t know how to navigate that.”
Spanish speaking people can select the option “para español, el primo numero dos” on a phone automation system, she said, “but here it’s still a very limiting factor to get unemployment benefits.”
Centro Hispano de Ayuda y Apoyo opens on May 18, Caballero said, but they have been referring those unemployed or needing assistance to community resources such as food pantries like Grove Christian Outreach Center, Olive Branch Christian Church and Gifts for Ben, medical practices like Old Towne Medical Center, which offers income scaled services and even referring people who need houses to trailer homes.
“There are services set up in the community to help non-English speakers,” she said. “Our goal is to serve as a bridge between the Spanish speaking community and their needs and guide them or lead them to the services they need.”
The resource centers provide translations, help people fill out job applications and notary stamp services.
The organization does charge fees for its services such as translating an entire document for $20. However, Caballero said feels the set fees are affordable.
“We’re trying to make the fees affordable,” adding if they don’t have $20 but can pay $10 instead, “I’m not going to turn anybody away.”
Caballero said they have been sending out “a lot of emails” to outreach centers, resources and lawyers advertising their missions and services they offer.
“We’ve been driving around town, dropping off business cards and flyers,” she said. “That’s been harder because things aren’t open. I think we have been able to reach a bunch of people via email because they are working more remotely.”
The organization is currently compiling a list of resources and is working on setting up virtual consultations.
“Everyone has been affected by the coronavirus…but when you are not an English speaker or when you do not know the rights that you have or when you are already part of that vulnerable population I think it affects you much more heavily,” she said.
Centro Hispano de Ayuda y Apoyo, LLC. 501 Prince George St., is open from Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours will change in the fall.
For more information, visit their website or call 757-784-6803. The number also accepts text messages via WhatsApp.
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