By Luz E Acosta, Supervisor at the Center for Working Families, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan
When Elvia Lopez arrived in Michigan she had two kids, she was feeling very alone. Even though she had some acquaintances in town, Elvia felt lost. She didn’t speak English and didn’t know anything about this new country. It was her first time out of her small town in Zacatecas, Mexico. For a few months, Elvia stayed at home taking care of her kids while her husband would work all day. She was completely dependent on him to even to go the grocery store. Soon she realized that she had to do something. A friend suggested that she go to “La Casa Amiga” to learn English.
La Casa Amiga Legal Clinic and Community Programs of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, located in a nondescript brick building on the corner of Williams and Pike Streets, houses an immigration legal clinic and programs that support Hispanic and other immigrant families. Its plain appearance hides the warmth, generosity and acceptance that welcomes the immigrant community, which must overcome many difficulties to establish a new life in the United States.
Elvia still remembers feeling very nervous when she opened the door to La Casa Amiga. She did not know what to expect, but those feelings vanished right away when she heard, “Buenos Dias.” Elvia became a regular student in the ESL classes. She could just drop her children off at the free childcare and take the time to improve herself. After her first contact with us, Elvia felt more confident. She attended more classes, such as Cooking and Nutrition. She explained that these classes were not only a nice escape from being at home all day, but they also helped her feel more useful, meet new people, become more independent.
At La Casa Amiga, Elvia heard about the government support programs but didn’t want to ask. Like many people in the same situation, she thought that being invisible was the best strategy. However, when the pandemic hit, she and her husband had problems covering all the family expenses. Elvia received some food through the La Casa Amiga Food Pantry until Claudia talked to her about SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to help families buy necessary foodstuffs. Claudia explained how the program works, helped her fill out the application, and explained what documents she would need. In the end, Elvia and her family were approved for benefits, so they could survive these long months of COVID.
Currently, Elvia is one of the more than 100 people who receive assistance through the food pantry, which represents fundamental support for families in these uncertain times. As the staff provides nutritious food staples for families, they also conduct baseline assessments that identify eligibility for other programs, such as Medicaid, employment assistance, and financial literacy. In its outreach to the community, La Casa Amiga programs provide wraparound services that can improve the well-being of families.
My husband still works in construction and sometimes work is fine, but sometimes there is no work. Knowing that I have the food stamps gives me peace of mind. If work is good, I will save that money to pay for some bills and extras. If work is bad, I know I can put a hot plate in front of my family. Not having to worry about food gives us time to focus on other important things like the education of our children.Elvia Lopez
During this time of social distancing and quarantine, La Casa Amiga follows up with families using technology such as phone calls, texts, or virtual conferences. Despite the distance, we can reach out to those most in need in our community and make sure that they have stable supports to maintain healthy families. The dedication of the staff of La Casa Amiga Legal Clinic and Community Programs has become even more steadfast during these difficult times.
When Elvia was asked how La Casa Amiga and her use of SNAP benefits has helped her, she replied with an honest but unexpected answer, “It helped us to become a better family.”
Names and dates have been changed for privacy purposes.