There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all in countless ways. However it has not affected us all equally. We cannot claim to stand in solidarity with each other if we are not also working to support underserved communities during the pandemic as well.
Currently there are 48 million Americans living below the poverty line. For those living paycheck to paycheck, this time is not a time of “rest” or a break from their lives. Instead they are filled with increased stress as they wonder how they will afford to live and keep a roof over their heads.
The issue of safe housing is also one that many privileged individuals often take for granted. Being quarantined in a comfortable suburban home is a much different experience from being quarantined in a public housing complex. Unfortunately, inner city environments are often more prone to the transmission of disease and unsafe public housing can make pre-existing conditions worse. Additionally, it can simply be difficult to social distance in an urban environment where people are already living in close quarters and forced by necessity to take public transportation.
If we are truly committed to helping each other through this time, then we must also commit to support underserved communities during the pandemic.
“Doing good in our hood”
Ramona Ferreyra has been working to just that. For years she has worked to support her community of the South Bronx, and has specifically focused on improving public housing conditions. Owner and founder of Ojala Threads, a social enterprise that creates baby bodysuits inspired by Hispanic Heritage, Ramona uses her business to give back to her community.
“My goal was always to use Ojala as a tool for good,” says Ramona. “While we had been making significant contributions to our community before Covid-19, we increased our ‘doing good in our hood’ efforts significantly in March.”
She began using her company to advocate for public housing back in 2018. As a public housing resident herself, Ramona knows first-hand the challenges faced by residents.
“Living in NYC public housing means that we live in unsafe homes,” says Ramona.
She describes how the presence of mold, leaks, faulty boilers and elevators worsen pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, which Ramona herself suffers from.
“Combined with a high index of diabetes, limited access to health foods, and poor health systems Covid-19 has found a perfect home in the Bronx,” she says.
This is why Ramona has made securing masks for her community her priority. Since March she has distributed 500 masks and has also secured a pledge for 3,000 additional masks.
“These masks will keep our neighbors safe for months to come. Personally, these efforts have been fulfilling,” she says, “but the illness has taken a toll on me emotionally as our community has been hit pretty hard.”
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Coping with grief and finding peace
It is especially important for us all to support underserved communities during the pandemic because they are the communities that are the most vulnerable.
According to the CDC, Latinos account for 16.7% of all coronavirus cases and African Americans account for nearly 20%. Underserved communities are also at an increased risk of chronic disease. These chronic conditions unfortunately contribute to an increased risk of mortality among coronavirus patients.
Ramona has seen the effects of Covid-19 as it has hit her community. Her neighbor, Luciano, contracted Covid in late March. He spent two weeks fighting on a ventilator while Ramona did what she could to help him. Unfortunately, Luciano passed away on April 18th.
“He was like a grandfather to me,” Ramona says. “I haven’t made much time to mourn him, but at moments it creeps up on me and I am overwhelmed with anger. I wish I had gotten masks sooner. I wish we had known that fevers weren’t a main symptom. But I did all I could for him with what I knew.”
Luciano’s passing has been difficult for Ramona, but she has been able to find peace in her work. She continues to bring attention to NYCHA residents and the fiscal deficit it faces of $34B.
“I am grateful to have founded Ojala as a social enterprise,” says Ramona. “At moments like this we are positioned to support the communities that we’ve served before and will continue to serve in the future.”
Ramona began Ojala Threads on public assistance and always sought mentorship and resources. She knew that doing so would ensure long term success, and more importantly resilience. Now she wants to work to give back. She is determined to continue to make an impact by securing masks for her community.
If you are looking for ways to help support underserved communities during the pandemic, check out these resources. There is also a GoFundMe run by Ramona to help support the seniors at Mitchel Houses and improve living conditions in public housing.