When the COVID-19 pandemic spread across Athens, a connected group of local organizations collaborated to serve and uplift local Latinx and immigrant communities in Athens.
One organization, Casa de Amistad, helped distribute food and resource packages of prepared meals and sanitary supplies. The overall aid effort was in coordination with other community organizations like Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, Support to Immigrant Families in Crisis and Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens.
Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition also was key in starting a rental assistance fund for Latinx immigrants and other individuals who needed aid, especially those who could not benefit from government assistance like stimulus checks, according to Casa de Amistad executive director Stephanie Paladino.
“Given that a lot of folks lost work and maybe couldn’t access public benefits through these other channels there has been a lot of hardship, and ongoing hardship,” Paladino said. “And so we know lots of families that I don't know what they would have done otherwise, frankly, it's a very resourceful group.”
Casa de Amistad received funding from the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission through an indigent services grant and federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The economic aid allowed the organization to continue and expand its existing grassroots aid efforts, Paladino said.
The money and coronavirus relief efforts funneled to Casa de Amistad are a part of the mayor and commission’s continued support of Latinx and immigrant populations in Athens.
“I think I can speak for the whole body that outreach and engagement with the immigrant community is really important to us,” said Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz. “We value that part of the community as much as we do any other part of the community.”
The mayor and commission passed a resolution in August 2019 in support of the immigrant, undocumented and Latinx community after 680 undocumented immigrants were arrested in Mississippi and a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas that police said targeted immigrants.
District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said the resolution, while primarily symbolic, was one of the most notable actions the mayor and commission took to support the community. Denson helped write the resolution with Latinx organizers including Beto Mendoza, who read the resolution in Spanish at the special called session in which the resolution was passed.
The collaboration with community organizers was something that made the resolution impactful, Denson said, and it signaled the government was working “hand in hand with the community to pass meaningful legislation.”
“I think this resolution was able to kind of set that tone that this was going to be a priority for us moving forward,” Denson said.
The mayor and commission followed up its commitment through the directed coronavirus relief. The local government also may be limited by the state in the actions it can take to aid the Latinx and immigrant communities in Athens, Girtz said.
Girtz said the commission would like to see the state help local Latinx and immigrant communities by allowing immigrants to obtain a driver's license and expand Medicaid coverage.
“The more integrated people are into the community, the more engaged they are, the stronger the community, the more cohesive the community,” Girtz said. “And it really is that community cohesion that myself in the county commission seek right now.”