SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic, a deeply-impacted East San Jose community has rallied together over the last several months to provide much-needed assistance.
Local leadership has since stepped in as the pandemic has disproportionately impacted East San Jose residents.
In the heart of East San Jose, the Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP) has long supported its Mayfair neighborhood, where a majority of Mexican-American and Vietnamese families have lived for generations.
“As a cultural institution that sees over 70,000 people a year, we are an arts and cultural organization and when the pandemic hit we knew we had to shift our programming in order to meet the moment,” said Jessica Paz-Cedillos, executive director of The School of Arts (SOAC) and Culture at MHP.
“We’ve been doing food distribution on the first and third Monday of the month, we do testing weekly now on every Wednesday, we saw about a thousand people last week, so there is a clear need,” Paz-Cedillos added.
“As we look to the future we know that our community is going to be in recovery for a couple of years if not more.”
As the first shelter-in-place orders were issued back in March, many local organizations and nonprofits in East San Jose were forced to pivot their efforts to address the needs of its community.
Paz-Cedillos tells KRON4 News the MHP is now focused on becoming a vaccine distribution site and will soon launch a multicultural campaign focused on providing vital COVID-19 information to its community.
The Si Se Puede Collective, a group comprised of five community nonprofits including Amigos De Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment, Grail Family Services, School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza and SOMOS Mayfair — have all been instrumental in community outreach efforts.
“These are five women-led agencies that have long track records and experience in working with the community … and really have the trust of community members,” said Vanessa Shieh, associate director for the SOAC.
“Since the pandemic hit these agencies rallied to offer food distribution, hot meals, diaper distribution, educational activities, ensuring parents had resources to be able to do online learning for their children, and financial assistance as well.”
Joining in to help its East San Jose community is San Jose Planning Commissioner Rolando Bonilla, who has now created an East San Jose COVID Relief Fund aimed to help businesses and nonprofits in the community that couldn’t didn’t qualify for any government assistance.
Bonilla, who is the only East San Jose representative in the city’s Planning Commission said the community has been forced to provide for itself as little no help has been given to the community from its local leadership.
“We don’t have to study it, we don’t have to evaluate it, the reality is you can literally walk the streets and you will see businesses and nonprofits fighting to exists and not only fighting to exist but having to make the unfair decision of fighting to keep their business open but exposing themselves to a virus that is ravaging East San Jose,” he said.
“For me the realization was this: the calvary is not coming, the community is on its own.”
According to Santa Clara County COVID-19 Data, 5 ZIP codes in East San Jose account for roughly 30% of the county’s total COVID-19 cases.
As coronavirus cases continue to surge to start 2021, the future of many East San Jose residents will rely on the vital help given by numerous trusted community organizations.
“The crisis here in East San Jose has shown local leaders the importance of relationship building and working with each other in order to address the needs of our community,” said. Paz-Cedillos. “It’s been beautiful to see that in a moment of crisis we are resilient and we are able to build new partnerships in order to do the real work.”
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