Betty Medina Lichtenstein and her team from Enlace de Familias were only five minutes late to distribute bags of cleaning and hygiene products to families at the Holyoke Community Charter School. Yet, a line of 50 cars was already waiting when they arrived.
“We had to set up shop real fast,” she said. They did, pulling bags of disinfectant, protective masks, and toilet paper from their rented van, and handing the bags through car windows or at curbside tables to grateful families.
The coronavirus pandemic had taken hold in Holyoke and people were desperate.
Enlace works with residents of Holyoke neighborhoods made up of predominately Latino/a and low-income families, 99% of whom receive public assistance, Mass Health, food stamps, and/or fuel assistance. Some resettled in Holyoke from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Medina Lichtenstein, the executive director, founded Enlace 27 years ago. She is often a voice for the community as she organizes the network of service providers to problem-solve the pressing needs of city residents. (A Holyoke street even bears her name in honor of her longtime advocacy and dedication.)
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, she searched and agitated for three weeks to unclog the pipeline of food distributors that caused shelves to empty in Holyoke grocery stores, bodegas, and food banks. She knew local residents were hungry since her staff called every individual and family served by Enlace in the past three years. They needed food, and people without means or cars couldn’t skip from store to store to locate rice, beans, or meats.
Then, she turned to another pressing need: cleaning and safety supplies. With a grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley, Enlace staff and volunteers rented vans, bundled bags of supplies and toilet paper (each worth about $25), then distributed the supplies to 1,000 families—meeting them at different schools across Holyoke when they picked up their children’s breakfast and lunch meals provided by Holyoke Public Schools.
“We want to thank the Community Foundation on behalf of all the families that were able to benefit from the grant award you provided us,” Medina Lichtenstein said.
“The grant met such a huge need,” she said. “Now, there’s paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper coming into stores, but at the time we did this distribution at the end of April, nothing was available.”
Listen to Betty Medina Lichtenstein describe Enlace’s efforts
to distribute supplies during the pandemic:
Enlace de Familias staff distribute safety and hygiene supplies in Holyoke.