While outpaced by health, information, and economic concerns in REJOICE’s pandemic conversations, for members of some communities, access to food and transportation were both notably affected by the pandemic. We present participants’ concerns about these topics together because they were so intertwined in speakers’ experiences.
Rural residents, especially those dependent on others for transportation, faced increased food insecurity, sometimes tied to pandemic-related unemployment. City residents appreciated free public transportation, but were concerned about risking family members’ health, or their own. Those living in city-run rental housing who had personal vehicles found parking–sometimes even unloading groceries for large families– policed, resulting in towing and unpayable fines.
“Yeah, she said…because _______ had been passing out visitors parking passes, and… they are not giving them to anybody anymore so cars have been getting towed for no reason…. She can’t have visitors or she can’t park her car outside while she unloads her groceries. It’s getting towed–it’s also one of the problems they want help with immediately if possible.”– Somali Bantu elder, via a second generation Maay-Maay interpreter
Several participants praised boxes of local food provided by farmers and delivered to their homes, and worried about missing them in winter. Others appreciated food from restaurants, organizations and mutual aid networks . While direct government food distribution efforts were appreciated, no one with whom REJOICE spoke found them desirable, healthy, or sensitive to dietary restrictions or cultural preferences. Food, transportation and health were interlinked for those with whom we spoke.
“The pandemic has greatly affected my ability to get food because I don’t drive. I have a disability. I haven’t driven in over ten years and I’m pretty much housebound…. I had worked for a year and a half prior to the pandemic trying to get an agency healthy grocery sack so I could get groceries into my home and that never panned out. Then we came upon Covid-19 where I was not able to go into the stores, grocery shop because of my compromised immune system and I had no family that was able to do it.”– Mobile home resident
Members of communities that were organized and networked, and had high levels of membership in grassroots organizations were more likely to describe shared strategies for resilience.
Example: Latinx farmworkers led a successful statewide campaign in 2014 to access the right to drive legally in Vermont. Spanish-speaking farmworkers with whom REJOICE spoke estimate that less than half of their community currently have personal vehicles; many had still depended on volunteers, largely retired elders, for rides. Those rides stopped with the onset of the pandemic, but Latinx workers who did have cars were able to help fill in– because their community had already organized to gain the right to drive.
“Here in my house I have [a car], and my other coworkers also have one, so there are two cars for us to get around, either to a medical appointment or to go to the stores. …And we have also helped other people who need rides, to go to the store or to a medical appointment or that kind of thing…. As I mentioned, more people, they no longer have volunteers as a way to mobilize. But for now, yes, we have and we can also provide some help, when we can, and when it is required. “— Farmworker, northern tier county
Summary compiled by: Dr. Susannah McCandless, Center for Whole Communities REJOICE 2021