Imagine living through this pandemic and not having access to food. That’s the situation that undocumented people and their families around the country are now facing. In Columbus, Ohio, UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) and First UU Church Columbus are working with a community network that is raising funds and has established a food bank to serve the undocumented community. This past Sunday night all the restaurants in Ohio were ordered closed. Monday morning thousands of people went into work and lost their jobs. If you’re undocumented you often can’t apply for government aid, there is no safety net for your family. Most people have about a week’s worth of food before they run out.
By Wednesday, Simakovsky Law, a firm of immigration attorneys and staffers, established a food bank and reached out to the Columbus Immigrant Transit Association (Columbus ITA), a group that UUJO and First UU Columbus helped found to meet asylum seekers traveling on buses coming through Columbus. The group brought food, water, diapers, personal hygiene products and financial assistance to asylees. Lauren Powers, the operations manager at Simakovsky Law explained, "As we had also been housing the ITA supplies and they have had to put meeting buses on hold this was a logical pivot for us to make at this time of great need."
The network is raising funds to purchase food, largely from immigrant owned grocery stores that are selling the food at wholesale prices, and making it available for pick-up at the law firm. UUJO is asking for food donations (a list of needed food is on their fundraising page) and raising money from UUs across the state and serving as the fiscal sponsor of the fund. Executive Director Rev. Joan Van Becelaere reports that people are being very generous.
Powers says they are spreading the word that the food is available through many networks including MESA Central Ohio, a coalition of organizations and individuals supporting migrants and their families that includes immigration attorneys, health care providers, teachers, immigrant rights groups, and the faith community. They are using social media to ask for donations and to let the community know about the food bank. There is a Facebook group that serves the Latinx community that has over 25,000 members that has been used historically to let people know about available jobs and housing as well as to alert the community to ICE raids.
The way distribution is working is similar to how grocery stores are functioning. The purchased and donated food is on shelves in a foyer area adjoining the law firm. There are volunteers asking people to observe the protocols of standing six feet apart in line and instructions in Spanish and English for wiping down the food containers when they are brought home (the containers are also wiped down upon delivery by volunteers running the food bank). First UU Columbus has a drop off on Mondays set up from 10 am to 2 pm in their coat room in the front lobby.
The law firm plans to run the food bank for as long as they can. However, as more government ordered shut downs are put in place, they and the networks they are working with are also preparing to move to distributing food to apartment complexes, trailer parks, and community centers.
There is an urgent need now to serve and make sure we are part of the safety net the government is not providing, especially for the excluded such as undocumented workers, transgender individuals and queer youth, returning citizens, and the homeless.
“We are doing our part” says Rev. Van Becelaere, “as communities of faith, to serve the people, especially the most vulnerable among us. The relationships we build will get us through and help us be part of transforming our society out of this crisis into one that puts people’s needs first.”