Immigrant Woman Starts Food Pantry In Her Home To Help Undocumented Families | Connecticut Public Radio

Immigrant Woman Starts Food Pantry In Her Home To Help Undocumented Families

Dec 3, 2020

Early in the pandemic, Xiomy De la Cruz was working at a fast-food restaurant when her work hours were cut back. She is a Peruvian refugee and a single mother with two children and another on the way. Like many families, she found herself in various pantry lines to make ends meet.

“So I said to myself one day, ‘Why not fill up my car with food and take it to my house?’ There are so many moms who don’t have access to a car for transportation,” said De la Cruz. “I filled up my van and put a ‘free food’ sign on my door.”

De la Cruz began collecting food, diapers and milk and distributed them to friends and neighbors. She called it La Bodeguita de la Gente or the People’s Little Corner Store. For six months, she stored everything in her Hartford living room.

“My living room, my entrance, my porch became the People’s Little Corner Store. I no longer had a table, no armchairs, because as more donations were coming in, people began to hear about the store,” said De la Cruz.

Many of the families who have knocked on her front door are undocumented, severely impacted by the pandemic and ineligible for federal COVID-19 assistance. The food pantry quickly outgrew her living room, so she borrowed space in what she describes as the heart of Hartford’s Latino and immigrant community.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, nearly 10 families were lined up at La Bodeguita de la Gente. Ingmar Riveros signed up families patiently waiting in the parking lot outside the entrance of their storage area. Over a table, he handed out a packed bag with rice, beans, sugar and instant corn flour, the food base of a Latino family. Food insecurity has nearly tripled among households with children during the pandemic, and Black and Hispanic families are more likely to experience this.

For many undocumented parents who have lost their jobs, pantries and food banks are lifelines for alleviating economic stress. What began as a food basket distribution to 20 families now helps 150, many with young children.

Mabel Romero arrived from Honduras with her children a year and a half ago, and she lost her job early in the pandemic. Her family was ineligible for benefits that could prevent hardship.

“Because of the pandemic, this was the right place for many of us to go. Many of us didn’t have jobs, especially immigrants, because in this country, it seems to be that we don’t count,” said Romero.

Still, she says she became part of a community of families who share resources, information and mutual support.

Credit Joe Amon / Connecticut Public/NENC

De la Cruz prides herself in having built that community of families and a rapid response network that now distributes pantry items every week and addresses other urgent needs like immigration updates and domestic violence prevention resources.

“The only dream I would ever ask for is to put up a refuge home so that the families who have just arrived here can at least have food,” she said.

In the meantime, she helped many have a meal this Thanksgiving.

Credit Joe Amon / Connecticut Public/NENC

Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.