Approaching Maria’s home on the outskirts of Pico-Union, a driver lifts a cardboard box out of her trunk to transfer it onto Maria’s porch. In partnership with Via, Para Los Niños’s Best Start had launched a city-wide grocery distribution service as a response to families facing COVID’s high unemployment and health risk factors. To provide extra support with nutrition and mobility, a healthy mix of groceries are curated before being dispatched to participants’ doorsteps by Via drivers – a key benefit for those without means of transportation and/or have vulnerable health conditions to risk public transportation during this potentially dangerous time of the pandemic.
It is not long before Maria opens her door, sees the box with a knowing nod and inspects the box with her two curious grandkids peering over her shoulders. Inside, there are dairy products, grains, canned beans, oil and proteins like sausages and soy chorizos. “I can make oatmeal for my husband, cheese sandwiches for my grandkids and healthy protein meals for my kids,” she shares in Spanish. Combined with her age, not owning a car, and how critical her role is in raising her grandchildren, Maria explains how she feels Via’s program protects her health and safety to continue being in her grandchildren’s lives. Moreover, the groceries alleviate financial pressure on her family, especially when they navigate periods of part-time work or unemployment.
Maria is not only a cornerstone of her children’s and grandchildren’s lives, but also an active community member and participant of Para Los Niños’s Best Start program for nearly seven years. She lives with her husband, children, grandchildren and occasionally, additional family or visitors who stay with them from time to time. Like many immigrant families, Maria has taken the mantle of raising her young grandchildren. Although they are not in school yet, Best Start gave her educational toys to better prepare her grandchildren for school.
Learning, however, did not stop with her grandchildren. “Best Start gave us laptops to participate virtually…It’s difficult. I forget how to join! I really want to learn how to use the computer” she laughs. Despite the learning curve, she feels supported, informed and confident. Because Best Start’s promotoras regularly checked in with her and even visited to assist her with using the laptop, Maria says she never felt behind.
As she recalled her history and experiences with Best Start, it became clear that the tangible resources went a long way for her family’s livelihood; but it was Best Start’s community and emotional support that deepened her personal growth and inner fortitude. “Before Best Start, I considered myself to be very shy. However, the promotoras helped me speak up so that I can stand in front of a group and advocate for myself and others better. They never leave us empty handed and care deeply –they offer Lyft rides for people without transportation and childcare during meetings, so I [used to] attend in person and take my grandchildren with me [before the pandemic]. I really learned how to depend on community.”
We parted ways with renewed hope that, with partnerships like Via and community leaders like Maria, pathways for empowerment and community can become the daily norm.