In Solano County: A Ray of Hope in the Time of COVID-19

By: Abby Cunningham

As the Bay Area sheltered in place, Solano County watched and waited. Then the order came down: Solano County would shelter at home along with the entire state of California. Catholic Charities of Yolo-Solano, a resource for food, housing assistance and immigration legal services, was suddenly inundated.

“The first week wasn’t bad. The second week we ran out of food in three days,” said Miriam Sammartino, Executive Director for Catholic Charities. “The shift happened in the span of only about three or four days days.”

The weekend before the stay-at-home order was issued, Sammartino held a conference call with her board of directors. Understanding the gravity of the situation in New York, they discussed what would happen locally if the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools and businesses to shutter. How would they overhaul the food pantry? Where could they find personal protective equipment? They prayed for more time, more information, more resources.

United Way Bay Area helped them answer the call. And as clients jammed the phone lines and streamed into the parking lot, Sammartino and her staff stepped up to give all that they could.

“People came from all over the region–Antioch, San Pablo, American Canyon,” said Sammartino.

Word was spreading fast. As trusted advisors to guest workers and those seeking legal asylum in the U.S., Catholic Charities has built unmatched credibility in the local immigrant community. Referrals from 211, word-of-mouth, faith-based organizations and others all pointed to the organization with the skills and technical expertise to serve some of the region’s most vulnerable.

“Some of our clients are married couples who work in the vineyards,” Sammartino explained. “When schools are closed, one of the parents has to stay home. Right there, that’s a 50% loss in income for a family just making ends meet.”

Like other organizations in Northern California now working to provide basic needs to an unprecedented number of people, Catholic Charities Yolo-Solano has had to overhaul their entire process just as demand is rapidly accelerating. Social distancing, grocery boxes, and keeping clients in their cars as much as possible are all part of the program now. For Sammartino and her staff, it has all been an overwhelming, if rewarding process.

“For us it has been a team-builder. We talk about everything at lunch, we share good news and bad news about clients,” she said.

Yet the need is great and is only expected to grow in the coming weeks and months. “We’re just so grateful to be able to do this much. One of the worst things for us is not being able to help when someone asks us.”

Please join us today in making a contribution to the United Way Bay Area COVID-19 Community Relief Fund.

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