August 16, 2021 Community Stories
With Grit and Grace, Rivera & Rivera Lifts Hampden County Residents
Marisol Rivera Feliciano could tell you a little bit about perseverance.
Feliciano, founder and president of the Springfield-based nonprofit, Rivera & Rivera Against Foreclosure, was forced to move five times when her landlords’ properties foreclosed.
She earned $10,000, partly by collecting and redeeming used bottles and cans, and achieved sobriety (and wrote a book about it!). Both efforts led to the down payment on her purchase of a home. She later founded Rivera & Rivera. In its very first day of operation, the organization fed scores of people victimized by the 2011 tornado that ripped through Springfield the day before.
Feliciano says she started the nonprofit to aid people wrestling with unstable housing and to be a model for those in recovery. “If I can make it, you can too,” she said.
She’s since led Rivera & Rivera in expanding its mission to connect Hampden County residents in need with a range of community resources. It provides food and cash assistance for rent, utilities, or medical expenses. And people challenged by addiction or intimate partner violence can find support through the organization’s programs.
During the pandemic, Feliciano and her team fanned out in Chicopee, Westfield, and Springfield, distributing pre-packaged meals from tables they set up in public spaces. Buoyed by a grant from the Community Foundation’s Response Fund, she estimates they fed 500 people each day who were struggling with food insecurity.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the dauntless Feliciano penned a letter to Springfield’s mayor appealing for emergency assistance for the city’s immigrant and refugee populations when COVID-19 had taken hold in the region.
“These hardworking families are among us and are struggling to survive,” she wrote. “They earned benefits available to all other working families, yet due to their immigration status they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, disaster relief funds, payroll protection programs, or stimulus checks. To me, this is a form of discrimination. We need to acknowledge we are all in this together. Our community will not recover from this challenge if we leave this working population behind.”
Another grant to Rivera & Rivera from the Community Foundation soon followed. The Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the Department of Housing and Community Development administered these emergency grants. Set up to provide assistance to individuals and families quickly, funding helped undocumented immigrants who may not have received CARES Act benefits. Besides providing food and cash assistance, Rivera & Rivera is also using grant dollars to provide laptops and internet service for immigrant families.
Feliciano says she’s motivated by helping people fend off eviction, but the work has consumed her. After almost ten years of operation, Rivera & Rivera received it’s first-ever grants of any kind in 2020—all from the Community Foundation. Some of the funds are dedicated toward office space, grant proposal training, and payroll systems. The organization is on firmer financial footing, much to Feliciano’s relief. “I am so grateful,” she said.
Marisol Rivera Feliciano (pictured) led teams of staff and volunteers in distributing food during the pandemic to people who are food insecure. Photos provided by Rivera & Rivera Against Foreclosure.