When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a group of local residents started SLO County UndocuSupport, a organization that sent direct aid to local undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families, knowing that they would be among the hardest hit on the Central Coast.
Nearly two years later, UndocuSupport has delivered more than $300,000 to more than 2,500 local families—families that weren't eligible for stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, and other pandemic lifelines.
- File Photo By Jayson Mellom
- LEFT OUT SLO County UndocuSupport recently hired a program manager to help with its work aiding undocumented or mixed-status immigrant families.
"Many of us were lucky enough to receive the stimulus checks and other kinds of aid, like unemployment, but immigrant families, who are very crucial to the community, were completely left out," said Abraham Melendrez, a new program manager for UndocuSupport. "It started by just providing direct support to families, direct checks to pay for rent, medical issues, anything they needed."
As the pandemic evolved, so did UndocuSupport. Today, the organization works alongside the Community Foundation of SLO County and SLO County government agencies to better identify immigrant community needs, coordinate services, and maximize impact.
One of its recent moves was to hire Melendrez as a program manager—a position funded by a SLO County healthy equity grant. The son of Santa Maria immigrant farmworkers, Melendrez understands firsthand the systems that mixed-status families have to operate in.
"For me, this has always been something that hits close to home, and that's why I'm excited to help people I basically grew up with," Melendrez told New Times. "I don't specifically do any of the fundraising, but what I do is work with the county, work with our community partners, to kind of first assess the needs of the immigrant community and then report that to the county. A lot of my work is just reaching out to the community and being a voice for them."
Melendrez said that UndocuSupport is still coming across many of the same issues and shortfalls that immigrant families faced in April 2020: rent, utilities, food, child care, and other basic living expenses.
"I think there's still a lot of need," he said. "A lot of families lost their jobs [due to COVID-19]. When you think of a citizen, it's a lot easier for us to change careers. For undocumented immigrant families, it's even more so of an issue."
While the economy has slowly been recovering, many immigrants are still struggling to find viable, full-time work. And when they do, other costs, like child care, kick in.
UndocuSupport is helping fill the gaps by leveraging its funds to support other community organizations that assist immigrant families. The latest round of UndocuSupport grants will aid the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, CAPSLO, Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success, and other local nonprofits.
Melendrez said it's crucial that SLO County residents realize that undocumented residents and their families are integral members of the community—often serving as essential workers long before the term became trendy.
"We all want our communities to thrive," he said, "and when people are being left out, then our whole community suffers."
• The Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District (RCD) recently saw the impact of its work restoring floodplains along the Los Osos and Warden creeks. In October, the RCD completed the Los Osos Wetland restoration project, which involved the removal of 400 feet of creek levees in order to reconnect 40 acres of wetland habitat and return two floodplains to proper function. Following the rainstorms in December, the RCD reported in a recent newsletter that its hard work paid off—instead of levees causing the creek to carry sediment, debris, and pollutants into the Morro Bay estuary, the flows "spread out over the floodplain" and the sediment, debris, and pollutants "filtered out in the native wetland vegetation."
• The Andrew Holland Foundation recently merged with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Luis Obispo (NAMI SLO). In a Jan. 3 press release, NAMI SLO said that the merger allows the two organizations to "increase our resources and be more efficient as we advocate and provide support to those with mental illness and their loved ones." The Andrew Holland Foundation was formed in 2017 by the Atascadero parents of Andrew Holland, a schizophrenic man who died in SLO County Jail after spending two days in a restraint chair. NAMI SLO emphasized that it will continue the Holland Foundation's partnership with the SLO County Sheriff's Office to sponsor crisis intervention training classes for law enforcement. Δ
Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to firstname.lastname@example.org.