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Pandemic hit undocumented immigrants hard

Spanish Community Center in Joliet has seen increased need in 3 counties

Although workers at the Spanish Community Center's weekly food pantry do wear masks, that isn't always the case with their clients, who often can't afford them.
Although workers at the Spanish Community Center's weekly food pantry do wear masks, that isn't always the case with their clients, who often can't afford them.

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The pandemic has hit undocumented immigrants hard, even if they didn't catch the coronavirus.

Sylvia Acosta, family advocacy manager at the Spanish Community Center in Joliet, said fear and ineligibility for various benefits are major factors.

For instance, undocumented immigrants who become furloughed or unemployed did not quality for unemployment or the stimulus check.

To help these clients, the center started a COVID-19 relief fund. To date, the center has distributed more than $200,000 in assistance to clients in Will, Grundy and Kankakee counties, Acosta said.

Acosta said the center started applying for different grants at the beginning of March. Clients could then receive up to $1,000.

“We were really not asking for much documentation, just some kind of proof they were affected by COVID-19,” Acosta said.

Even if clients didn’t lose their jobs due to furlough or unemployment, some left their jobs because they lost their daycare arrangements, which especially impacted single parents, Acosta said.

“We [Spanish Community Center] do have daycare but it’s been closed the last few months,” Acosta said. “And it probably won’t reopen for the next couple of months.”

No income means no money to buy facemasks. Acosta said lack of facemasks is a consistent issue at the weekly food pantry. If people are wearing facemask, they’re often reusing single-use masks, she added.

But the clients don't always understand strategies to cut down their risk of exposure to the coronavirus because information about prevention and testing is in English, a problem for those who cannot read or write English.

“I’ve been in touch with people in (Will) county to be more conscious of that and provide more bilingual materials,” Acosta said, adding, “We do have staff members that assist with translating.”

The home page of the center's website has pictorial instructions in English and Spanish.

But even if they do get sick, undocumented immigrants typically don’t have access to health care and/or can’t afford treatment, another reason they many shy away from testing.

Even if they’re sick enough to seek hospital care, many don’t because they worry about deportation.

“We hear quite frequently, ‘My husband is working, and he infected the entire household,’” Acosta said.

People who are undocumented don’t qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), Acosta said.

But people don't always apply even if they do qualify, especially if their goal is to become U.S. citizens, Acosta said.

“They’re afraid it will prevent them from becoming a citizen down the line,” she said.

Diana Almazan, the food pantry coordinator at the Spanish Community Center, said most people who receive assistance at the weekly food pantry are Hispanic.

“We do see people who are African American,” Almazan said. “There’s also an increase in the Asian population as well as a decent amount of population being white.”

Almazan said food pantry clients come from Will County, Grundy County, Kankakee County and even Chicago, although they may work in the area.

“They’ll come from their lunch break to receive a box," she said.

The need for non-food items (diapers, toothpaste, toilet paper, dish soap, body soap) has also increased, she said.

Donations help keep the pantry operational, she said. For instance, the Plainfield branch of Community Christian Church has donated weekly, she added.

To donate to the COVID-19 Relief Fund or for more information, visit

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