Stepping Up

Early in the pandemic, call after call flooded nonprofits that work with vulnerable communities, as people found themselves suddenly out of work and in need. That was true of undocumented immigrants seeking help from Santa Cruz Community Ventures, which offers a range of programs to help local Latinos thrive and manage their finances. Staff members found themselves digging for available resources, but even as aid increased, many clients were at a dead end: Crisis-related government aid, like increased unemployment payments, would not be available to those without legal immigration status.

This lack of resources in the early stages of the pandemic fueled the birth of UndocuFund, a program to distribute cash assistance to undocumented immigrants impacted by crises such as Covid-19 and wildfires. The program started in March of 2020. Within two weeks, organizers got a website up and running and secured a grant from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation to help undocumented families in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.

UndocuFund started with $100,000 and since then, has distributed nearly $5 million in aid; 50 percent of beneficiaries are in Monterey County. Each family can receive up to $1,500.

“UndocuFund is a vehicle for all of us to give back and be there for neighbors when the state and federal government hasn’t been able to step up,” says Maria Cadenas, executive director of Santa Cruz Community Ventures.

In Monterey County, 80 percent of recipients have young children and most have lived in the area for at least 10 years. One of them, who asked to be identified by her initials, C.A., is a mother of four and lives in Castroville. C.A. normally works in the fields, but found herself instead becoming a stay-at-home mom because day care wasn’t available during the pandemic; now, she says, it’s too expensive. Her partner, also a farmworker, is the sole provider of their family. C.A. received $1,500 from UndocuFund, which went to rent and groceries.

UndocuFund started in a moment of crisis, and intends to carry through to other challenges. “We are building relationships, not transactions,” Cadenas says. “This is about creating a sense of belonging as a community.”

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