Rising unemployment has taken a toll on immigrants in Tennessee, in part because they don’t qualify for certain government aid.
Nonprofits have stepped up to help. But even they are running tight.
What started as an impromptu drive-thru food bank three weeks ago is still going strong weekly outside of Conexión Américas’ offices in South Nashville. Cars wrap around the building. Volunteers wear face masks and gloves as they hand out boxes of fresh produce and milk.
Most of the people being served on Thursday — about 250 — are Spanish-speaking immigrants. Many have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus.
62-year-old Lily Hernández lives with her daughter, who used to work at a hotel until she was laid off.
Hernández was supposed to get a call in March for a new job, but that never happened. So, these boxes of food help a lot.
“They help for two reasons: first, because we don’t have jobs right now,” Hernández said in Spanish. “The other one is because it helps us avoid leaving our homes.”
Hernández said now she won’t have to go to the grocery store and put herself at risk.
Juliana Ospina Cano is the executive director of Conexión Américas. She told WPLN News her nonprofit organization is particularly concerned about the lack of help for immigrant workers.
“Many of them will not be qualifying for federal assistant even though they filled their taxes and they complied with their taxes,” Ospina Cano said. “But, they won’t be able to qualify.”
That includes the $1,200 stimulus checks. Many seasonal workers and immigrants without permanent residency don’t qualify.
To help them, Conexión Américas used grant money they received from United Way’s $3 million COVID-19 Relief Fund for 90 families in the state. The need was greater, so they started distributing food in partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.
Ospina Cano said they want to help more people, but the current economy makes it hard.
“It’s challenging times,” she said. “I think all of us right now are monitoring our cash flow, our finances and tracking the market.”
Ospina Cano said they are relying on long-time donors and new contributors after having to move their biggest fundraiser event — a breakfast at the Music City Center— online.
They have yet to raise over $70,000 to meet their goal.