As UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía wrote in March to celebrate Women’s History Month: “Above all, this is the year to recognize the value of women’s role in society and in the workforce.” At the end of December 2020, 5.4 million women had lost their jobs, while also representing one in three essential workers, and while also thousands of them had to leave their jobs to dedicate themselves to take care of their families. During these difficult times, which have impacted the economic health of Latino families, the learnings from the UnidosUS Comprando Rico y Sano (CRS) program have, on the other hand, helped these families make the most of resources, cook more at home, use creativity to be resourceful with limited means, apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and more, all to ensure their children had food to eat on the table. To honor these families, and especially our mother figures in observance of Mother’s Day, here are four stories of UnidosUS’s Comprando Rico y Sano facilitators and participants.
By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist, and Elizabeth Carrillo, Senior Program Manager, Health, UnidosUS
Resiliency, strength, and adaptation have been key themes during the pandemic, and parents, especially our mothers and mother figures, like grandmothers, have particularly shown these characteristics, having to juggle the many responsibilities of parenthood during much uncertainty. It hasn’t been easy, and the challenges have been many, but even in these trying times they found a way to stay strong, make ends meet, and support their families.
Strategies for affordable healthy eating
From the difficulties of being alone and not able to share special moments with family –like María Salcedo, who missed the birth of four of her grandchildren—to the challenges of having to take care of grandchildren because their parents work—like Natalia Barrera, who was afraid of getting out of the house because she was taking care of her granddaughter who has asthma—our mothers have been put to the test. But both María and Natalia, participants of Comprando Rico y Sano at UnidosUS Affiliate Eastmont Community Center, could draw from those lessons to pull through.
“Taking the nutrition class has been helpful in making healthier food choices for me and my family. I am learning so much about the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetable and the portions we are supposed to eat from each food group,” says Natalia. She has been able to feed her family every week during the pandemic thanks to the weekly food distribution Eastmont provided, and the resourcefulness learned through CRS. That has been the case for María as well, who is not working and whose unemployment benefits have been put on hold. She also was able to use the teachings from CRS “because I have diabetes and learning to eat healthier foods has been beneficial to my health,” she shares, a critical issue during the world pandemic.
As Director of Community Education and Outreach Elizabeth Reynoso, from UnidosUS Affiliate El Centro, Inc., expresses, CRS is offering the opportunity to have a better, healthier life, and during the trying months lived during the pandemic, CRS made her reflect about savings: “We went through several difficult months, because there were either no ingredients available or the possibility of going to the store, or there was also not enough money for many people, including ourselves,” she explains. “So having the opportunity to remember the strategies of always buying with a plan, of using simple dishes at a low budget, helped us reach emotional peace and also emotional health, to know that we will have food to offer our families every day during these difficult months.”
Elizabeth is also a mom, and she starts all her CRS presentations introducing herself as one, as someone who understands the struggles the participants go through, understanding the challenges because she buys in the same stores they do and because she knows the same recipes they do. By introducing the lessons this way, she places herself as someone her audience can relate to, someone who has learned from this curriculum and has been able to change thanks to it in the last six years she’s been teaching it: “I wouldn’t be able to stand up here in front of you promoting something I haven’t done and learned from the program,” she tells her students.
A salvation for many
Thanks to UnidosUS Affiliates, Latino families have been able access food during the pandemic. Eastmont Community Center and El Centro, Inc., for example, have been able to deliver food directly to their neighbors. Other organizations like UnidosUS Affiliate The Concilio have shared information with their clients about where to access food: “They helped me a lot with the resources they share through WhatsApp, for example, the food banks where I’ve been able to get food,” says Marysol Beltrán, who is also a SNAP recipient, and a mother- turned-teacher during the pandemic.
Her husband lost his job in this recession, and having SNAP as a resource was a life saver for them: “It’s helped me a lot because I can bring food for my family, and in that way I can save money to pay basic needs such as rent. Having food stamps [SNAP] is a great benefit,” Marysol tells.
Enrolling people in SNAP is another way in which UnidosUS Affiliates, through CRS, have stood with our communities in these tough times. Elizabeth explains how her staff and volunteers worked 13 and 14-hour days, to help families fill out their SNAP application: “During the most difficult months of the pandemic, from March 2020 to October 2020, more or less, our work structure changed. We expanded our schedule from 8 a.m. to 9.30 or 10 p.m., and it was because our staff and volunteers gave [more of] their time to be able to enroll families in SNAP. We were doing everything virtually.”
Elizabeth heard it from their clients firsthand: having someone help them fill out the SNAP application was very impactful, because it meant having access to food to feed their families. “During the pandemic, the chance to obtain food stamps [SNAP] was the salvation to have food for many families. Many,” she emphasizes. Eastmont Community Center is now helping Natalia apply for CalFresh, California’s SNAP program.
Taking care of ourselves
While we are getting closer to going back to the moments we miss the most as more people continue getting fully vaccinated, the pandemic and its consequences are not over yet, but all the mothers, grandmothers, teachers, cooks, listeners, caregivers, etc. that we interviewed have great advice for all the moms out there: What tip would you give to a mom reading this interview?
Natalia Barreras: “To ask for help. They do not have to do this alone. I would tell them that it is okay to have bad days, that not everything has to be perfect. I would encourage moms to reach out to agencies near their home and ask what services they provide.”
María Salcedo: “To be more cautious with kids and be more patient with themselves and their children, especially since the kids are taking virtual classes at home. To take care of themselves first because if they are not well, they will not be able to take care of their families. If possible, to have emergency food and toiletries kits at home.”
Marysol Beltrán: “To take care of ourselves, and not to feel overwhelmed. That there are plenty of resources and organizations ready to help us move forward. And to always be united as family.”
Elizabeth Reynoso: “The greatest advice I can give is the one that comes from a mother who is going through the same thing as you are. I think the empowerment of a community comes from its members. Popular education is a tool that we must not forget […]. Shared experience from one mother to another, or from one human being to another, is the greatest strength you can share with a person who you see is more vulnerable than you.”
Elizabeth also encourages moms to look for an organization in their area that has community health workers or promotores de salud who are implementing the CRS program: “Not only are you going to learn about healthy eating, about local services that can help you get ahead, but you are going to learn from the experiences of a person who has already gone through what you will face.”
During this month in which many parts of the world celebrate Mother’s Day, UnidosUS and its programs continue to work to strengthen our families and improve their quality of life. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, grandmas, and mother figures out there.
About Comprando Rico y Sano
Comprando Rico y Sano (Buying Healthy and Flavorful Foods) aims to reduce hunger insecurity and instill healthy shopping and eating habits among Latinos. Through the program, promotores de salud (community health workers) engage their community in a peer-to-peer, interactive way. In 2019-2020, the program reached approximately 4.3 million Latinos with nutrition and SNAP information via news and social media and 87,774 Latinos with face-to-face nutrition education and community events. Promotores helped 24,381 eligible Latinos enrolled in SNAP in the last year alone.
This blog post is part of Comprando Rico y Sano, a program supported by the Walmart Foundation.