RALEIGH, N.C. -- At one point, Latinos accounted for 44% of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina despite making up about 10% of the state's population.
The nonprofit La Semilla stepped in to help the area's Latino population with food and PPE distribution during the pandemic and mobilized community health workers, or "promotoras," to give the community essential information about vaccinations and COVID-19 prevention.
The organization also partnered with hospitals and nonprofits to provide vaccination clinics.
"The core of our work is food assistance, social support ... vaccine equity, educating our community members regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging community members to receive the vaccine itself," said Pastor Edgar Vergara Millán, the executive director of Iglesia La Semilla. La Semilla is a co-vocational faith community of the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.
"Even to some of the community vaccination events or clinics, pop-up or mobile events, some people still have not been able to get to one of those," he said. "Hence, we have shifted our strategy as La Semilla to take vaccines to residential areas."
Millán estimated that La Semilla has served about 50,000 people with food distribution and helped some 20,000 people get vaccinated.
"There are so many things that hit Latinos, Latinas, Latinx people harder," said Millán, who was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States in 2009 to attend seminary at Duke Divinity School.
"I think one of the main things is that those members of our communities that do not have the documentation that allows them to receive unemployment benefits or stimulus monies or other types of support were themselves at the frontlines of essential work," he said. "Hence they were at higher risk, and they suffered because of that."
Beatriz Meraz Alvarado works as a La Semilla community health worker.
"I'm so proud and I'm so happy to help my community because these are hard times with COVID," Alvarado said. "And all the communities and especially my Latino community, need a lot of information, the right information about the COVID vaccines."
"I was a nurse in Mexico and I was working for 10 years in a trauma hospital, and I love to work all the time with my community, close to my community," he added.
Millán talked about the origins of the name of the church and nonprofit, which means "the seed" in Spanish.
"La Semilla, or 'the seed' -- which takes its name from the language the gospel uses to describe the kingdom of heaven -- that is like a small seed that is planted that grows out of proportion," he said.
He said he was by himself at a food distribution drive in April of 2020 waiting for a few volunteers to arrive.
"Back then, there was so much food available, and there weren't systems in place to get the food to the people," he said. "I was frustrated and stressed. I remember praying, 'God, it's time for the seed to sprout and grow. We need some help. We need some people.' And those seeds that have been planted have germinated, sprouted and grown."
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