September 18, 2020 Community Stories
A Determined Neighborhood Stands Tall
Springfield’s bustling North End is home to 11,000 residents. New North Citizen’s Council, a neighborhood pillar for 47 years, helps meet social service needs for the neighborhood’s residents working to overcome poverty—especially for undocumented immigrants excluded from social and health care safety nets.
Many people came to the North End from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Others immigrated from Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras to work at local farms and to make a better life for themselves and their families, according to New North’s executive director, Maria Ligus.
The coronavirus pandemic hit the North End hard. Since undocumented residents were ineligible for government economic stimulus relief, despair gripped the neighborhood when unemployment rose. Worse, the crisis temporarily disrupted regular deliveries to New North from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
So, when New North received a COVID-19 Response Fund grant through the Community Foundation, it purchased thousands of dollars worth of gifts cards to two neighborhood food stores. Often walking door-to-door, its staff distributed the cards to people most in need. They also handed out totes packed with masks, gloves, sanitizer, and health and safety information.
One recipient was a woman raising her three grandchildren under age six. She was overcome with emotion when she received a $50 gift card for food.
Another was a mother of three children, one with autism. When her employer—a local restaurant—closed due to COVID-19, she had no income. The gift card helped her buy much-needed food.
And when 11 grieving North End families couldn’t afford funeral expenses for loved ones lost to COVID-19, Ligus used Response Fund dollars to discreetly arrange payment through a local funeral home. Ligus knew their sorrow firsthand; she lost her father to the coronavirus.
New North—with 100 employees—closed for just one week when the pandemic started. Nearly all programs re-opened quickly with new safety protocols and video support groups.
The neighborhood needed them.
“We were very scared,” said Ligus. “But my staff members were essential, and they put themselves at risk to deliver services. We have great employees.”