Interview with Héctor M. Ramírez on hunger and food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic
This is a condensed interview with Héctor M. Ramírez, a disability rights advocate who volunteers at a food pantry in the Los Angeles area. He shares his experiences developing a delivery grocery service for seniors and disabled people while volunteering at the food pantry.
Please note: the responses sent by Héctor were transcribed from an audio file using otter.ai and there may be some minor inaccuracies. Below are some excerpts from the transcript.
Tell me a little about yourself!
Hi, this is Hector. So I decided to do this a little bit in an interesting accessibility matter…I’m hard of hearing, and artistic sound, hearing, sometimes it’s an issue, but it also talks, what people say very well. So it’s really really good. And I wanted to kind of just try it this way.
I am 45, years old now, I am Shinkawa patchi Mexican I was born and in Juarez, Mexico. I live, I live, I live in Ganga Tomba, as most people kind of know as Los Angeles. Does the original names, by the people, original people so this land. And so, but I must specifically I live in an area called Chatsworth, or rather, I’d say I occupy an area called Chatsworth because this one is really not mine. it’s. I’m just really out compiling it. I live here with my family most of my family in this area, live with my mom, we just kind of trailer, a mobile home I can’t clean a trailer home, but it’s actually a mobile home. And I was mentioning to some of my neighbors who also have mobile homes and when they said trailer homes, they will quickly corrected me. So I live in a mobile home communities area, surrounded by people, primarily with the age of 55. I am I am the youngest person here so it’s kind of interesting. I love it. It’s kind of. It’s a nice big place. I used to live with my mom also for most nine years in a one bedroom apartment, but a mile from here. Because rent is so expensive and so my mom would get the bedroom and I would get the floor, and you know we saved and my sister helped us out and I got I’m able to kind of move to get this so it’s really neat. So I have a new home. I have a bedroom I have a door. So that’s kind of how. That’s something about me I’m just kind of, I focus on those sort of things. So I said I have autism and bipolar disorder, whatever that is. But I’m just a regular person. I’m just parents and gay. I am single. Let me see I have a dog. I have a service dog, I have a service dog name is more or less. That’s just the English translation in Spanish is master Manos. And so he’s my server. So, I’ve had for a couple of years. See, I like the color orange. So I think perhaps that. That’s enough for now. how are you doing during the corona virus pandemic as best as everybody else can I’m very fortunate I am very blessed to have my family safe, we have a home.
And I know there’s a lot of people out there who are really struggling so I’m really grateful for the things I have, you know, but I also, you know, struggle, I think this in many ways has been taxing. And so I you know you know it’s sometimes it’s difficult for me to kind of deal with the anxiety and the fears…So I’m very fortunate that my family. You know sometimes definitely are here to support me and you know I listen, every once in a while, it gets overwhelming, but I think we cope. And I think it’s fair enough to say that that’s something that a lot of folks are experiencing so I think we have a whole new way of looking at things. But I’ve been busy. I’ve been very fortunate. You know, to kind of take the time that everybody else has turned to taking to really do social things I do a lot of advocacy work.
How are you doing during the coronavirus pandemic?
I’ve kind of have been leaning into my anxiety and leaning into my work. One of the things that I used to do for fun that I saw for not for fun, that it was more, I think, a way that I felt that I was doing more direct service to the community, which definitely, it’s more rewarding for me so you just volunteer on Saturdays at a local food pantry, down, down the street from this new mobile home that I just live in. Actually I that’s how I found it. Right. When I was finished moving in. I went for a long walk my bike dog to kind of get to know the community, to kind of get a feel for what’s around and I saw this food pantry. So I’ve been volunteering there for a year. And, but during this COVID crisis. I, I’ve been stepping up like everybody else. We have had a lot of people show up for food. You know, from a variety of different communities that normally I hadn’t really kind of witness. Originally we had a lot of elders seniors. people disabilities victims of domestic violence unsheltered homeless and homeless individuals runaways veterans. You know, large families that were struggling financially think about the bocce ball were the other groups and sends out sometime in I want to say, February, March, those months kind of just have been melted together It’s weird.
Hunger and food insecurity is a huge issue for disabled and older people who cannot leave their homes. You are a volunteer at a food pantry called Fish of West Valley and added a delivery service for seniors and disabled people. Tell me how you got involved.
It’s everything has been going fast and then slow, but I think during the stay at home orders. And the grocery. You know hoarding of food situation. We saw a significant increase of seniors and then just more general population, looking for food assistance. So the work has been significant. So it’s kind of weird. Cuz I’m not really sure some times. You know, what exactly it is that I’m doing or what’s more important. That’s actually more important, but I do it every once in a while because I’ve had to kind of slow down because I was getting hurt.
…primarily all of our volunteers that run the food pantry nobody gets paid. But we obviously had to make some modifications. So remember all volunteers had to stop coming. And there were some time we only had, you know, a handful of folks running and the numbers are just staggering. And so we’ve been taking kind of shifts. Like, you took this week off from or, you know, if you’re not doing we’ll try to do something for home or, you know, if you’re doing well maybe you can just two phones or something like that. And just, I mean, adopting our schedule that’s what we’ll do. And we have people with a variety of disabilities, mental health conditions. You know, we definitely have people that have had substance abuse disorders. We have people with a variety of. We have a deaf person who helps we have people with autoimmune conditions. We, we even had people that that were there dealing, you know, with some severe medical conditions and they’re volunteering with something many, many, many, many of us started you know just going there looking for help. And so I said I was because even, even I have had to really be thankful to be able to have access to some of those food sources. At times it was really hard to get food.
…we had a lot of folks who because there were seniors. many of them couldn’t go to the store, they don’t walk by many of them, most of them of the folks here have underlying medical conditions. And so a lot of folks started going shopping stopped going shopping, many of the folks live here by themselves. Some of them might have a caretaker. very few actually have a partner or spouse still with them. Some folks started to be kind of shut ins and I heard something that was kind of distressing. I mentioned it to lady who, for the radio that I talked to yesterday. You know I found out that one of my neighbors. She’s an older individual. She mentioned to me in my walk was just talking to her that she went is if I could get her help get her some food. And I said, definitely. You know I was gonna go to the grocery store, and then she confessed. You know, out of dignity that she didn’t have to. But she did. And she told me that she started eating her cats food, because she didn’t have any food. And that’s when I really started kind of looking at the situation differently and I think we can parent that I think as everybody was kind of responding to covered. There really hadn’t been much planning and consideration for seniors and people with disabilities. You know, especially as we saw with food sources, safe spaces. You know is even save just access to save distancing is has been something that we’ve seen our community. Suffer great loss because of that folks don’t even have access to be able to be safe, or distance from folks.
…I was very glad to see through the advocacy work that so many folks of us were doing you know at all the different levels that you know grocery stores started, you know, putting restrictions of some people would have so much hoarding, and then definitely modifying times for people with disabilities and seniors and first responders, or people in their frontlines to be able to get the things they needed and definitely food deliveries. But still, there’s a lot of folks who don’t have access to this type of services, I don’t think a lot of folks really know how to access some of these services. And I know that a lot of those folks who are struggling still to get food are our seniors and disabled people…I still see them looking for help.
…one of the things that I’ve seen and heard people struggling to do is really, you know, signing out for the services. In, because it may not be accessible, it might only go out and email a notice or, you know, people might need to use internet to fill out forms and in LA County folks, for example can now just dial 211, and the person wants you to navigate them anyways No, it wasn’t. It only had like two different steps, because I tried it before you actually get a live person and you know it, I was able to sign up somebody that way and they did it all without me having to fill any paperwork and stuff like that but I think it takes a little bit of information, and definitely some support we’re talking about for some folks this is generational knowledge. It’s not that people might not know how to access this information. Because of like a paucity but I think sometimes it’s just more of an access to the information, or the generational knowledge and support. So definitely I think this is an area that it’s very important to further develop, especially as we move forward.
What are you observing with the shelter-in-place order in the LA area?
…here in LA County, you know, as far as mental health, definitely has been a big issue. I, I know for a fact that people with disabilities have struggled to even have access to the public messages that have been provided, like the updates. You know by the county but the health department’s. You know, we heard about how Mayor de Blasio from New York was sued for not having a cell interpreters. But that’s that’s that’s a really another very good example. Because here in Los Angeles, you know, there are times that there was another interpreter. There was definitely no closed captions. Definitely no closed captions. And sometimes when people were talking or would speak. They had face coverings. I mean, I think, one public health official who gave a very diff one of the first most important meetings. He did it and he was wearing a black face Mark mask in front of microphone with nobody around with no interpreters and at times. No, it sounds so it’s like, you definitely had no access to the information.
You know, and so accessibility has been an overall issue that has definitely had deadly consequences. And you know, with this being the 30th year anniversary of the ADA is obvious, more than ever, as many of us have been saying, including people who have died recently from COVID. We’ve had advocates in a disability advocates died because of COVID and they died, not even being able to get accommodations to, to the information to the testing sites. You know to care. And I think that kind of really also speaks. Generally, for the state of things in one of the largest you know counties in the United States. It’s better than it used to be but I think now we can really speak that in measures. So that’s definitely something. And I say this. You know when I said to disabled people and I include people with mental health communities, because I think more than anything people should realize by now that nobody actually, at least county service providers and city agencies, really consider people with mental conditions as being people with disabilities are entitled to some of the same rights and benefits afforded under the law, and that definitely was the precursor to what happened. You know especially here in California. With our homeless epidemic issue we’re really dealing, which were it was an issue of not just the significant lack of affordable housing for the residents of the county and the state. But then the mental health components, which was being kind of directly fed, or in almost, you know, in a revolving face with our incarceration system here in LA County, Los Angeles County…
What concerns do you have about this pandemic at the intersections of race, class, age, and disability?
…it’s no surprise to me that black, brown and indigenous people. In addition to elderly, disabled people are dying and becoming infected have high rates…I want to answer this by coming from a place of by not coming from a place of fear. But from strength, not from anger, from power or from hate or you know just, but really from compassion, because, you know, especially I we’re seeing all throughout the state the statistics and the, the health disparities are glaringly obvious in our communities, I mean it’s something that we have been talking about. And I think one of the things that worries me is that, or perhaps might be better to improve the horrible spaces that some of us are right now is really to change the way leadership is conducted. You know we’ve been trying to get a seat at the table for so long and sometimes they tell us you know there’s no room and we have to take turns with each other and that’s just really not an option anymore it’s, I think all of us now have to come to the table from all these communities, and we all have hammers and we need to break down this table and make it bigger so that we’re all really being heard. Having a more collective approach to this really utilizing more restorative measures to really address some of the things that we’re already facing the things that we were facing before…
How can people support this volunteer-run food pantry?
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
… I know that so many communities are mourning. And so I think we have to kind of remember that and be respectful as we move forward. And, you know, working to improve the lives. So, you know, you know, lots negs flag, brown, definitely are indigenous in our Native American Alaska Native communities…we’re about to reopen in the state of California. I think it’ll start tomorrow. But I think it’s really up to all of us to really still kind of, you know, keep practicing those routines that we developed during this stay at home. Period. For those people that were able to do it. You know, and not waste the time that, you know, has been afforded, you know by the hard work of so many people out there in the front lines. So many people who have lost, who are losing and you know who are struggling to move forward, we I think we have to have that mindset,
Héctor M. Ramírez is a lifelong disability rights advocate. He is a Latino Chiricahua Apache, Two Spirits who has Autism and Bipolar Disorder. He works with county, state, national organizations, and policy makers to create legislation to reduce mental health disparities, especially for racial and ethnic communities.
Hector has also been a member of the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission for the past six years, where he has served on the Services Committee and the Cultural and Linguistic Competence Committee. Hector holds a PhD in neurochemistry, and has a background in communications and psychology.
For over two decades, Hector has volunteered and held board positions with various organizations throughout the Los Angeles County. His work also includes presenting at the United Nations and collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of his current focus is increasing mental health services for immigrants, victims of human trafficking, refugees, and undocumented individuals, families, and communities.
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