Throughout the United States, minorities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only nine percent of Hispanics and eight percent of Black people received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, 66% of white people have received their first shot. One of the reasons for the lower rates is because these families are less likely to have reliable internet access to book vaccine appointments online. Other factors include less flexible work and family schedules and issues finding transportation to the vaccine sites.
The Organization of Latino Americans of Eastern Long Island (OLA) has been assisting minority families in need since the beginning of the pandemic. On February 19, OLA organized a pop-up vaccine clinic at The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in East Hampton. This pop-up site prioritized vaccinating minority residents. The state provided OLA with 250 vaccines. 90% of the people vaccinated at the pop-up were minority.
“Reaching equity takes action,” said Minerva Perez, who has served as the Executive Director of OLA of Eastern Long Island since 2016. “It is not a theoretical exercise. You have to do things.”
OLA is currently working with the Town of East Hampton at their mass vaccine site at the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons building on Stephen Hands Path to make sure minorities are properly represented in the vaccine rollout. OLA is in talks with transportation resources to make sure commuting is not a problem for anyone.
Last spring, many families received necessary food through an OLA-organized food delivery network. The sudden closure of schools, churches, nonprofits and other community resources left many families unable to secure food. OLA fielded calls across Long Island from elderly people that lived alone, single mothers, families that lacked transportation and people in quarantine. OLA created a system that connected families in need with volunteers that could quickly deliver food to them.
“We created this system, and then received more and more calls,” said Perez. “The volunteers trusted us, and we trusted them. They didn’t even know who we were but we asked them to buy food for these people, give us the receipts, and we would give them a check within a week. We are continuing to develop these relationships.”
OLA has since worked with Suffolk County governments to make the network even stronger.
“Right now, if you call 311 and say you are hungry and homebound and have no access to food, you should be able to get a delivery of food to your door in 24-30 hours,” said Perez.
Nine out of the 10 townships participating in this program have also agreed to a memorandum of understanding to adhere to the confidentiality of the callers. Last spring, 100 families received food from OLA’s volunteers on a weekly basis. This spring, as more people have returned to work, the program serves around 60 families.
In addition to feeding hundreds of families on the island, OLA donated $1.7 million worth in Chromebooks to help families transition to online learning. Students from Springs, Southampton, Southold, Bridgehampton, Riverhead and even as far as Rocky Point received them. OLA also paid for Wi-Fi hotspots as well.
Recently, the group was approved to provide Project Hope, a Federal Emergency Management Agency funded mental health program, to Long Island. 16 crisis managers are on call to provide anyone in need with free and confidential counseling. The managers represent many of the different ethnicities on Long Island, such as Shinnecock Native American, African-American, Hispanic and white. Some of the concerns expressed by Project Hope callers are “access to food, clothes, health services, transportation and financial resources,” according to Project Hope Coordinator, Andres Espinosa.
“Feelings of loneliness and isolation, which produces stress and anxiety are also common problems,” said Espinosa.
Although the project is supposed to end in mid-June, Perez hopes that it will last a few months longer. If they are unable to continue their partnership with New York State, OLA plans to work locally to provide assistance.
“I will stand up every day and say it is important to create equity,” said Perez. “Some people may not understand systemic inequalities in our country, but they should go back and read history. Sometimes this is what we have to do.”