HYRUM — A community-driven support system for families infected with COVID-19 is gaining attention in Cache Valley.
On Thursday, the results from the COVID-19 tests given to Hyrum’s JBS employees started trickling in. Since then, there has been a massive uptick in those needing assistance, and a large portion are members of the Hispanic community — a population that is over-represented in essential businesses, according to Guadalupe Marquez-Velarde, an assistant professor at Utah State University.
“And that’s the case that we’re seeing right now in Cache Valley with workers at these different food processing plants and the virus spreading pretty rapidly among these individuals,” Marquez-Velarde said. “They have not stopped working. They have not had the resources to get tested, and you know, they also cannot afford to stop working.”
Crescencio López-González said this is a situation many businesses, like JBS, have capitalized on.
“A lot of them are living paycheck-to-paycheck,” he said. “Workers have not been getting enough money, and that is on purpose. There is a push to get them back on the job. …They’re going to feel pressure to go back.”
López-González has long been an advocate for the LatinX community at USU and the surrounding area, but he didn’t plan on leading local COVID-19 efforts until he received a message from a former student asking for help. Since then, his plea for donations for one family has grown to organizing nine distribution centers throughout Cache Valley, consisting of local churches, nonprofits and individuals who want to help out.
“The families that we’re assisting and getting deliveries out to are in really dire need,” said Jess Lucero, the board president for the Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection. “They can’t leave their homes, and they want to do what’s in the best interest of the larger, wider community’s health, as well.”
Lucero said 90% of CRIC’s clients have one or more household members who are employed in production and processing plants in the valley where COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring. This is where neighborhood connection steps in, according to López-González.
“It’s important that we, as community members, respond to the needs of our neighbors who need us now, who are probably looking out the window, waiting for help,” he said. “We’re asking them to stay home, so we need to support them to do that.”
Over the past several days, López-González has worked with groups like CRIC and local churches to organize volunteers to distribute the food, hygiene and cleaning supplies that are donated — volunteers like Lucero and Stephanie Islas of Logan.
“It hurts to see many families who are suffering not just physically from the disease but also now economically, because now they have to stay home in quarantine,” Islas said. “I want to make sure these families don’t go without food and supplies because of this.”
One individual who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from their employer said despite working 13-15 hour days, their family was struggling even before contracting the virus.
“Una semana más,” they said. One more week.
One more week before the food they’ve been donated and the money from their last paychecks can no longer cover bills.
“Even if we’re not comfortable going back to work, we have to,” they said, “because the bills are accumulating and we need money to pay.”
According to a Facebook survey from a volunteer, perishables — like fresh fruit and meat — are in highest demand. And while there has been an outpouring of food donations, the group is still hoping for a growth in monetary contributions, according to Claudia Méndez Wright, one of the volunteers who also created the Facebook group “Latinos Unidos — Covid19 Cache Valley” to consolidate information on resources available for the community, including a way to donate money to the cause.
“Food doesn’t pay bills,” she said. “You cannot go to your credit card company and be like, ‘Hey, can I pay you with this loaf of bread?’ No, you can’t.”
Méndez Wright said in her social circle, many have been willing to donate. This sentiment was echoed by Lucero and López-González.
But these are visible community members, not nameless government entities.
Both Logan City and the Bear River Association of Governments have several options for rent and utility assistance, and more funds are available due to the pandemic. Though there hasn’t been a spike in demand yet, “we didn’t have a big spike in infection rates until just recently,” said BRAG’s community and economic development director, Brian Carver.
“That may change over the next week or so as people can’t go to work and need help to pay the rent,” he said. “We’re seeing a large group of people who, at least temporarily, won’t have income as they’re asked to quarantine and self-isolate at home. But this is also a large subset of the population that is very reluctant to ask for help from local government.”
Islas said this is a common mindset.
“With a lot of them being here for so many years, undocumented, and during those times, they tried not to make a big deal out of things for fear of repercussions,” Islas said, “it’s hard for them to get out of that mindset even when they are now documented.”
Of the 1,024 tests performed at JBS alone, nearly 300 came back positive.
Due to spread rate models from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, López-González expects the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the valley to triple as family members of confirmed cases also get tested.
People can donate or utilize donations by contacting the following locations:
Iglesia Católica de Santo Thomas de Aquino
573 E. 2050 North
Logan, UT 84341
Iglesia de Dios Peniel- Un Nuevo Comienzo
Marisol Montufar y Francisco Montufar
340 N. 800 East
Hyrum, UT 84319
Church of Latter-day Saints
386 Sheridan Ridge Lane
Nibley, UT 84321
336 E. 700 South
Logan, UT 84321
Emmanuel Baptist Church
310 N. 800 East
Hyrum, UT 84319
Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection
93 S. 1250 East
Logan, UT 84321
(Relief Society-Hygiene Kits)