The food drive for members of the Latino community was supposed to get underway at Diversity Richmond around 9 a.m. on Tuesday. But cars of people waiting for a chance to pick up a week’s worth of groceries were lined up along Sherwood Avenue before then.
Given the pressing need, staff and volunteers started the event early, handing out vegetables, eggs, salt, potatoes, noodles, watermelons and other food items, said Bill Harrison, the executive director of Diversity Richmond, one of the region’s leading rights organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“They need food badly,” Harrison said. “And most of these cars have children in them.”
Some people who stopped by for the donations on Tuesday said the week’s worth of food is helpful in their time of need.
“We’re working less hours,” said Ricardo Suniga, a 42-year-old Henrico County resident who also said he was grateful for the food donation.
Diversity Richmond had planned to distribute food to 500 families during the event, originally scheduled to run from 9 to 11 a.m.
But by 10 a.m., Harrison said the group had distributed food to more than 500 families.
“Everyone has been hard hit by the pandemic, but especially the Hispanic community,” Harrison said. “Because so many of the Hispanic folks work in the hospitality industry — hotels, restaurants, housekeeping staff, dishwashers, cooks and they’ve been hit hard.”
Fernando Rodriguez, a Diversity Richmond volunteer who helped distribute food, said Latinos are often working in jobs where they don’t have the luxury of taking time off in the event they get sick.
“The time that they don’t work is the time that they don’t get paid,” Rodriguez said.
Beyond the economic impact that the pandemic has had on shuttering businesses that provide them jobs, Latinos are among the groups that make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases, said Rodriguez, who also is the communications director for the Virginia Department of Health’s Richmond and Henrico health districts.
Latinos make up roughly 6% of the population in the city of Richmond, but they account for nearly half of the city’s 2,222 coronavirus cases in which the patient’s race and ethnicity were recorded, according to figures on the VDH’s website.
One reason Latinos are disproportionately affected, Rodriguez said, is they often work in the service industry that entails frequent contact with the public, which increases their risk of infection.
The Tuesday food drive at Diversity Richmond, which has been in existence for about 20 years, was the first of its kind that the group had undertaken, Harrison said.
Before the pandemic, the community center had been planning to hold its second Hispanic music festival called Viva RVA!
But amid the coronavirus, organizers said they opted instead to have the food drive. Volunteers in masks placed groceries in the trunks and back seats for people who drove up to the Diversity Richmond parking lot.
Local hunger relief agency Feed More provided more than 8,000 pounds of produce for the Tuesday food distribution, Harrison said. Diaz Foods, one of the largest Hispanic food distributors, donated the food. Financial support came from Genesis Consulting, Glow Med Spa, Treehouse Realty, SignScapes and Virginia Pride, organizers said.
“Everybody is very appreciative. Families that don’t have cars are riding with other families that do have cars,” said Raul Cantu, event coordinator at Diversity Richmond, during a break from placing donations in vehicles.
He added, “A lot of us are fortunate to still have jobs to be able to afford our groceries, and a lot of people, unfortunately, do not. That’s why we did this.”
Harrison said the community center had fielded phone calls the day before the food drive from people asking if they could receive donations if they were not from the Latino community and were told that they could indeed receive a donation.
“We saw a need in the community, and we wanted to address it,” Harrison said. “This is America. We’ve got kids going to bed hungry. We see that as unacceptable.”