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Stories from the Front Lines

May 12, 2020

Gloria Castillo

Gloria Castillo, Canal Alliance Case Manager, shares an inspiring client story and describes the joys and challenges of assisting the immigrant community during the shelter in place order. (Community members’ names have been changed.)

Gloria Castillo

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve met a lot of new clients. All have impressed me in their own way, but none so much as Olivia.

Olivia, a native of El Salvador and a California resident for over two decades, lives with her husband and two kidsHer husband was working for Uber to support the family, and their income collapsed when the shelter-in-place order took effect. He recently secured a part-time job at Safeway: better than nothing, but not enough to make up for the shortfall.

Olivia’s family rents a room to Miguel and his 15-year-old son Javier – a common arrangement in the Canal, where it’s typical for several families to share a single apartment. Last year, Miguel made the journey from Guatemala to San Rafael. Six months later, Javier followed in his steps, and Miguel sponsored him out of government custody after he was detained at the border and put into a shelter for unaccompanied minors. Miguel has no work, and no easy way to ask for help: Like many in the Canal, he speaks an indigenous Mayan dialect, and his Spanish is limited.

When she heard that we were providing rental assistance. Olivia called Canal Alliance and was set up for a telephone appointment. (All such meetings are being done over the phone.) As we were going through the rental assistance application, she stopped and told me that she isn’t charging rent to Miguel and Javier during the crisis. She and her family depend on Canal Alliance’s food pantry to keep them nourished – but she also cooks for Miguel and Javier. “It’s not just my family you are helping,” she told me. “You are sustaining them too.”

What is the most challenging aspect of your job right now? 

The hardest thing is simply keeping up with the demand for services. Sometimes, while I’m on a call with a client, the person from my next appointment is already calling or texting me – or a person I spoke to the day before is ringing me with new questions and additional needs. I have to squeeze in follow-up calls whenever I get a few free minutes. My colleagues and I pride ourselves on our proactive case management, supporting clients over a period of time through regular contact; but in the current crisis, with so many new clients seeking help, it’s a challenge to maintain those relationships.

What, if anything, makes you feel good about the work you do?  

I cherish the relationships I have with colleagues like Laura, Ana, Lupita, Christina, Pricilla and Jessica. Throughout the day, we answer each other’s questions and keep each other motivated via email and instant messaging. We connect on the phone when we can. I also take great joy and comfort in hearing from clients, like Olivia, who are going the extra mile to help their friends and neighbors. My colleagues support each other; we knock ourselves out to support our clients; and we see those clients spreading that support throughout the neighborhood and beyond. That’s what community is all about, and I’m proud to be a part of it

Learn more about our Crisis Response & Impact


While we hear many devastating individual stories, we are inspired by the resilience of our clients. We are also heartened by the generosity of our volunteers and donors who support our emergency response efforts.

Read more posts in: Stories from the Front Lines

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