The Mississippi Gulf Coast, with an economy relying heavily on the service industry, has an immense number of low-wage jobs between its casinos, hotels and restaurants. Much of this work falls to members of the large Latinx community, meaning people of Latin American ethnic or cultural identity living in the United States. Now, in the wake of COVID-19, many of those workers are both out of work and facing food insecurity as they cannot access the same public assistance and stimulus money as many other Mississippians.
Mississippi Rising Coalition founder and activist Lea Campbell said the Latinx community performs vital jobs in the state, but still faces tremendous barriers that prevent them from accessing the resources they need.
“As in most places, the Latinx community is among the most marginalized communities because they’re largely made up of both documented and undocumented workers and folks who are employed in seasonal or low-wage jobs,” Campbell told the Mississippi Free Press today.
Many service jobs have been eliminated or delayed due to the pandemic; thus, Latinx families are losing wage earners and do not have the finances to provide basic necessities for their families like food and hygienic products, Campbell said.
“This community is already very vulnerable under normal circumstances, but then you couple that with a pandemic where they lose those low-wage jobs,” she said. “And then couple that with restricted access or lack of access to other resources like food stamps, health care, and so forth.”
More Homeless as Evictions Loom?
The reality for Latinx Mississippians may worsen soon. Gov. Tate Reeves’ eviction moratorium ends June 1, which could leave families who cannot afford rent evicted or homeless, which is another issue Campbell and Biloxi-based partner organization El Pueblo are trying to solve, she said.
“These jobs that these people filled were among the first to go, so they’re just in a really vulnerable, life-threatening situation because they’ve got kids, facing potential eviction, definitely food insecurity, and there’s also the language barrier,” the activist said.
Campbell, who has been a health-care professional for 20 years, said nutritional status affects immune-system function. Without money to access quality food, the immune system is more susceptible to contracting the virus, she said.
“These communities are among the highest risk to contract this virus, and that is born out in statistics,” she said.
Partnering with El Pueblo to Battle Hunger
In response to these needs, Mississippi Rising Coalition started a Mutual Aid Project to help vulnerable communities. The organization sat down with El Pueblo, an organization that does legal aid and advocacy work for the Latinx community, to discuss the needs of the community and how they can partner to provide and protect them, she said. They came up with a food drive.
“We’re trying to do some fundraising to purchase the food and other items and also providing healthy, able-bodied volunteers to do the purchasing of the food, packing of the boxes and distributing the food to the community, so that we don’t put El Pueblo staff members at risk. They’re also members of the Latinx community who are breadwinners in their family,” Campbell said.
In addition to volunteers and donations, the community also needs masks, and El Pueblo has sewing machines they can loan out for people who would like to make them, she said.
For those who cannot volunteer or donate, Campbell hopes that future state and federal relief bills include Latinx residents.
She wants to see stimulus money go directly to the individuals that need resources, not large businesses and corporations. “The aid needs to come directly to the people,” she said.
Volunteers will pack food boxes at El Pueblo’s Biloxi office with times and dates to be announced. Those interested in volunteering can email Mississippi Rising Coalition at [email protected]. Those who would like to donate to the food drive can visit https://elpueblo-ms.org/.