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As the COVID-19 pandemic continually forces Latino heritage celebrations to be canceled, Carnaval San Francisco organizers are turning their attention to addressing the crisis which is disproportionately plaguing the community.
“We took the whole infrastructure of Carnaval and turned it into Covid response,” said Roberto Hernandez, the Executive Producer of Carnaval San Francisco and a Mission District community leader. “Not like other organizations that just shut down, we made a conscious decision that we needed to respond to this crisis.”
In May, Hernandez gathered with other community groups to form the COVID-19 Latino task force, which set up the Mission Hub at 701 Alabama St. in the Mission at the Mission Language Vocational School.
At first, it was a makeshift food bank in the heart of the Latino community. Volunteers handed out a week’s worth of culturally appropriate food once a week. But now it has grown a lot.
“We had to expand because the lines kept growing and the need kept growing,” Hernandez said. “We started off with 500 people in May and now here we are in September. It’s seven-thousand-plus families we are providing food for every week.”
While this effort to help the community has expanded, the sad reality is the number of Covid-positive cases has remained frustratingly high.
San Francisco is only 15 percent Latino but 51 percent of those testing positive are Latino, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Officials said many are frontline workers who live in crowded home environments, often multigenerational.
“They don’t have the luxury to shelter in place,” Hernandez said. “They that have a job are holding onto it like a lifesaver.”
The Mission Hub has not only expanded its schedule to three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — it also has added services, including coronavirus testing done every Thursday in partnership with the SFDPH.
“We have help with rental assistance, income relief, we have help connecting families to distance learning because that is a big huge challenge, helping families navigate the different programs that are available to them like WIC and health care and health connection,” said Tracy Gallardo, a Mission Hub volunteer who is also a legislative aide to San Francisco supervisor Shamann Walton.
“That’s what this whole hub is about. It’s about volunteers coming together.”
Six months into the crisis, it’s not just Carnaval that has had to cancel its annual festival. Folks from Mexico and seven other Latin American countries who usually celebrate their independence and heritage this month are also seeing their parties canceled. The Mission Hub is encouraging everyone to pitch in.
“Volunteer, make a donation, get involved, that’s how simple it is.” Hernandez said. “Getting involved helps us get out of the sadness and depression that this virus is causing to us mentally. So many people here thank me for coming to volunteer and I say, ‘no, thank you’ and they say, ‘no, thank you for letting me get out of my house and get out of my space and be able to do something positive.’”
The Mission Hub organizers recently began setting up popup hubs in the Excelsior and Tenderloin neighborhoods. They are also delivering food to seniors and others who are vulnerable to the virus.
Gallardo said she looks forward to the day the music and dance of Carnaval return.
“I mean right now, you could dance, we’ve got the music on. You could scoop the frijoles in the bags and the masa in the bags and hopefully, in May, we’re all ready to come out in the streets and celebrate not only Carnaval but the good riddance of COVID-19 in our community,” she said.