Laura Jiménez-Diecks, Canal Alliance Case Manager, shares a client story that highlights the severe impact of the COVID-19 situation for immigrant families in Marin along with her own journey while working during Shelter in Place.
Diego became a client of mine about 8 months ago when he came into Canal Alliance needing help to complete an application online. He was a victim from the Sonoma fires, and had worked at a ranch for 15 years and it all went up in smoke. At the time, Diego was sad that he would have to switch trades to adapt to his new life in Marin County.
Sometime after that, his family found housing through Homeward Bound of Marin, and he was able to borrow money from relatives to help him through a restaurant school. Once he became accredited, he began working at a restaurant in Mill Valley. So here he was, a fresh new beginning, when COVID-19 hit and suddenly Diego lost his job and his family’s sole source of income.
During the second week of Shelter in Place, as we switched gears to provide financial support to the community through our Client Support Fund, I was surprised to get Diego as one of my phone appointments. During our call he updated me about his new path and how things were starting to stabilize. He had called to apply for rental assistance. I asked him about his family and he shared that he sent his wife and daughter to stay with her sister in Healdsburg, where Diego thought they would be safer and better cared for. He said he feels lonely and desperate, but that he needs to stay in Marin for when the restaurant reopens, and his employer has assured him they want him back as a line cook. Diego cannot wait for Shelter in Place to be lifted but understands the gravity of the situation.
During the call, I signed him up for our Client Support Fund and gave him the details about our food pantry. I also spent a good amount of time talking to him about safety and hygiene precautions to take, how the safety guidelines are continually changing and updated him on the County’s moratorium on rental evictions. I wanted to make sure he knew of all the developments taking place and make sure he was up to date on everything. We talked like friends, something I felt he needed during this time of isolation. Diego expressed so much gratitude for the assistance. We worked together to quickly fill out the intake form and requirements to apply for The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, which provides housing and critical family needs assistance to residents of the nine-county Bay Area.
The next day I received an email confirming that his application had been approved and was being processed. I gave Diego a call to give him the good news. I cannot tell you how many ‘bendiciones’ (blessings) I received. After a long day’s work, his gratitude is all I need to recharge. We made a pact that once this is all over, he will make an appointment just so we can see each other face to face and perhaps share a cafecito (coffee).
As for me, this is my new normal:
The first week for me was all chaos at home. I have four children. The older two are out of the house, which added the stress of making sure they could get our support, long distance. I was being bombarded with emails for the younger two from schools about distance learning. I live in Marin and the schools were abuzz about keeping our children engaged. Truthfully, I didn’t have, and still don’t, the bandwidth to be supervising my teen’s schoolwork.
At the beginning of the second week, I sent an email to my kids’ teachers asking if they could just be patient with us. I bluntly told them to not expect me to be on top of this and to please ask my kids to take ownership. I explained that Canal Alliance has been deemed an essential business and that I was busy trying to transition serving the Canal community remotely and not simply at home thinking of unfinished projects I could tackle during my Shelter in Place “time off”. If anything, it now feels like I have more unfinished tasks as I try to juggle these transitions. Although the teachers’ responses were very supportive, I started carrying the guilt of not being there for my children.
My kids see me here, but they cannot talk to me. I have set up camp on our dining table and my piles of papers, staples and laptop are moved around at dinner preparations. As this began to wear me down, my supervisor, Ana, offered a solution. As a result, I have switched my hours to work from 7am to 3pm so I could be done earlier and switch gears from case manager to homeschooler, to cook, to mom.
I am deeply appreciative for this flexibility. I have not mastered it yet, but as we have leaped into my new normal, I am finding meals with my family are better, we enjoy movies together more, and I can honestly say that we are more accommodating with each other. We go for drives with snacks in the car just to see sights.
As for schoolwork now, we go day by day. If it gets done, great; if my kids are having an off day, we prioritize that. We are functioning and we are coping. That anxiety that lodged in the middle of my chest, like a knotted ball, has loosened up, but it tightens again when my daughter remembers that what she has been working towards for 12 years: graduating from Tamalpais High School, has vanished. It is hard to see my 14-year-old, who has always been the most self-sufficient and even-keeled one, cry to me in his room saying he feels lonely, sad and scared.
The highlight of my days is at the end of each “jornada”, when my Canal Alliance case management team members start pinging each other funny quips signaling the day is over. We often video chat and it’s the most pressure releasing thing there is! We gripe, we laugh, and we kick back. We became aware very quickly that we are not just filling out forms. We are doing much more than that; we are absorbing our communities’ pain.
These are our people, the ones we greet on Tuesday morning at the food pantry. The ones we have followed through pregnancies, job applications, retirement, illnesses…so they trust us, they not only tell us they need help but also update us on how everyone is coping. It is not easy to keep from breaking into tears when they start sharing what they are experiencing. I am thankful these are not video calls. It allows them not to see the worry on our faces. We give them practical, emotional hope and sometimes that is all they need to move safely to the next day.
I am grateful for my Canal Alliance family. They are the ones that understand much more what we go through in our work. Our end of day banter is what keeps me going. I know we are the fortunate ones for having jobs. We have a responsibility with this community we serve to bring some balance in the continually shifting sands of this pandemic.
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.