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Ana Martinez

Los Angeles park group takes on mutual aid during the pandemic

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The Equipo Verde had their goals for 2020 all laid out: a calendar of community work days to clean up the neglected back alleyways that run through their South Los Angeles neighborhood, a slate of policies for park investments they’d be pushing with their elected representatives, and a plan to create a new tool lending library, to make sure there are always plenty of rakes, masks, and gloves to go around. It’d be a busy year, but the 30-odd members of the Equipo Verde—or “Green Team”—are no strangers to getting stuff done. In the eight years since the group formed with a mission to improve their local parks, they’ve brought about big changes to public space throughout South Los Angeles.

But like so many fellow Americans, the coronavirus pandemic upended their carefully laid plans—and created a new batch of challenges for their families and neighbors. “It’s been very high stress,” says Griselda Lopez, a member of the Equipo Verde since the beginning. “We’ve lost jobs, we’re thinking about our bills: the rent, the utilities. Many of us have been thinking: how are we going to make ends meet?”

ca_parquepadrinos_11022018_127The Equipo Verde normally meets monthly at Maya Angelou High School in South Los Angeles. In this photo from last summer, the group shared stories with a visiting park group from Wenatchee, Washington. Photo credit: Jorge Rivas

So since mid-March, the Equipo Verde has shifted gears, putting their existing strengths—communication, trust, and an extensive network of nonprofit and public partners—to work to meet their communities’ most urgent needs.

“We used to have monthly in-person meetings to discuss our projects,” says Dayana Molina, a community organizer with The Trust for Public Land who works alongside the Equipo Verde. “We now get together twice as often, and we’ve transformed these meetings into platforms to share resources—from information on accessing unemployment and nutritional benefits, to homeschooling, to mental health support.”  Early in the pandemic, Molina helped ensure everyone who wanted to join the now-virtual meetings knew how to use Zoom—a small but important step for members who’d never joined a video call before. They’ve also created dedicated groups on Facebook and WhatsApp to store and share resources and information.

“One of the first things that helped me cope with the pandemic was being informed,” said Edna Lozano. After she was laid off from her union job in mid-March, she successfully navigated a prodigious maze of bureaucratic hurdles to secure some unemployment benefits—and then immediately turned around and started offering guidance and tech support to her family and neighbors, including fellow Equipo Verde members. Lozano shared the story of a man who came to her when he was denied unemployment benefits: “His family all has U.S. citizenship, so I knew they were eligible for support through the department of social services, food stamps, and CalWorks. I said, ‘These are all the documents you’d need to go and apply for these resources, here’s where you apply online—you’re in a pretty good position to receive these benefits.’ I just knew this from having gone through it all before him, and being able to give him this information made me feel a little better.”

Roxana Sanchez owns a cleaning business with her husband. As offices shuttered across Los Angeles, demand for their services dried up, so she was forced to furlough her ten employees, and she and her husband are only working part time. “But our business insurance needs to be paid on a monthly basis. So many in our community have similar needs—but since many in our community are undocumented, they’re not eligible for some sources of aid.”

Sanchez says she joined the Equipo Verde three years ago because she’s invested in a healthier, more livable South Los Angeles—but she's also proud of how the group has grown to take on other challenges. And she’s appreciated The Trust for Public Land’s ability to reach undocumented people in particular. As the pandemic and its economic fallout take a disproportionate toll on low-income people, essential workers, people of color, and immigrant communities, Roxana says this established network of problem-solvers is more important than ever.

A woman wearing a dust mask stops to pose for the camera at a park clean-upTrust for Public Land community organizer Dayana Molina jumped into the fray at a neighborhood clean-up day last summer. When COVID-19 emerged, she helped the Equipo Verde orient to virtual meetings and other ways to answer the community's urgent needs. Photo credit: Jorge Rivas

“Without someone being there to guide, help, and navigate what resources are available, it would be the sense of us being alone against this pandemic, and that would be really difficult,” Sanchez says.

“I think our impact is more far reaching than we know,” says Lopez. “I do know whatever resources I share are far-reaching, because whenever someone has a question, they tell me they’re asking not just for themselves, but for someone they know. Every Equipo Verde member who brings a solution passes that on to their families, friends, and neighbors.”

“We’re all in this boat together, and nobody knows how it’s going to go, but we’ve proven to ourselves that we can figure it out,” Lozano says. “I think we’re doing an awesome job.”

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