The word “community” was heard often among volunteers and event officials at Centro Hispano’s 47th Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive on Nov. 19. Now more than ever, after Donald Trump’s presidential win, the Hispanic community is feeling the need for support from one another this Thanksgiving season.
Thanksgiving will be different this year for some immigrant families as they are unsure about their futures in this nation. Tension produced by the election was reflected at the food drive when it was noted that pictures and interviews were not allowed with food donation recipients.Trump has directed much of his election rhetoric towards the “deportation” of illegal immigrants from our nation, which has generated an unsettled feeling within families do not have U.S. citizenship.
The unsettled feelings were countered by Centro Hispano’s communal effort, which will provide a hearty meal to those in need this holiday season.
Centro Hispano is an organization in Milwaukee that helps under-privileged Latino families become self-sufficient though early childhood and adult education, citizenship and immigration assistance, and elderly housing.
On Saturday, the atmosphere of the food drive was upbeat as volunteers assisted from various Milwaukee high schools and colleges. Participating schools included Nicolet High School, New Berlin West, the Honor Society from South Milwaukee High School, and Marquette University gathered at the Centro Hispano Center and parking lot on Milwaukee’s West Side on a crisp winter afternoon.
Despite the harsh weather conditions, the volunteers stayed in good spirits while distributing boxes full of rice, beans, tortillas, and traditional Thanksgiving food through Centro Hispano’s unique and efficient “drive thru” method.“It’s great to see that other students are actually interested in helping out the community, not just themselves,” said Marquette University Accounting major Antonio Martinez, 21, of Milwaukee.
Martinez who is a member of the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee chapter at MU encourages students to get involved in volunteer work.
“I brought a couple of freshmen from our chapter to show them that college is about, more than just grades and school, you have to go into the community to actually get the full college experience,” said Martinez.
Thrivent Financial, which is a financial planning and wealth management solutions organization not only helped find student volunteers for this event, but also helped fund the food that was provided to volunteers.
“It’s a great event for volunteers to use their Spanish skills, to get their volunteer hours in, and to just create more awareness for them of the community,” said Thrivent Financial Representative and Centro Hispano food drive event committee member Julie Valadez, 32, of Waukesha.
Although there is always concern over whether there will be enough volunteers for the food drive, between Friday and Saturday last weekend almost 300 volunteers rotated and helped distribute food boxes.
To receive a food donation box, families are only allowed to use one application that proves household income along with proof of identity. Families must fall within a certain annual income.
For a family of two, they must earn less than an annual income of $24,036 to be eligible for a food donation. For a family of eight, they must earn less than an annual income of $61,332.
“Community members apply for a box the last two weeks of October and are given a certificate that they bring to redeem for a food box,” said Centro Hispano President and CEO Toni Rivera-Joachin.
As the food distribution started, cars lined up at one end of the parking lot while a turkey mascot waved to the families and handed them candy as they waited to be directed to one of the two lanes where volunteers would and put a food box it in their trunk or into their car.
The food drive “drive thru” method was an idea that was developed by Centro Hispano members five years ago.
“We really needed a lot more volunteers to help people carry stuff to their car because the boxes were too heavy, or you would have single moms coming in with a baby, and then they had this box they had to try to get to their car, so it just made sense,” said Centro Hispano Manager Kay McKenzie.
Milwaukee has grappled with high poverty rates for many years, which calls for a more combined effort to fight hunger above in all Milwaukee communities.
We have a very deep reach into the community but we know that there are other food based organizations like Feeding America, Hunger Task Force that all try to work to do their part I just think that there should be more of a coordinated effort,” said Rivera-Joachin.
Since most school districts are closing for the entire week of Thanksgiving, families have found it difficult to make food last for the week without having meals that are provided to children at school.
“A lot of the service staff who work with the families directly hear stories from them that you if it wasn’t for what they got in the box, they wouldn’t have been able to feed the kids,” said Rivera-Joachin.
“Milwaukee has always struggled with a very high poverty rate and so for us it’s really important to be able to give back. On average, for the families that apply for Thanksgiving food basket, they have less than $12,000 annual salary, and that’s for a family of six or eight people,” said Rivera-Joachin.
It is widely agreed that there is one factor that made the Centro Hispano food drive a success: the volunteers.
“We just wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” said Rivera-Joachin.
As the temperature continued to plummet, hot chocolate was distributed, and mariachi band music played. People danced while helping distribute boxes of food to the families’ cars in the parking lot drive thru.
Although some individuals will question their futures in this country at the Thanksgiving table this year, there will still be a reason to give thanks to Centro Hispano for helping make mashed potatoes out of potatoes this holiday season.