How it started & How it’s going: A look back at a year of pandemic response

A look back at a year of pandemic response
It’s been a full year since the pandemic took hold of our communities and changed our lives, our families, and our businesses forever. Twelve months later, too many families in hard-hit communities like ours are still suffering from the health and economic impacts of the virus. La Colaborativa was proud to mobilize quickly – and with the support of so many of you – to launch a full-scale and sustained emergency response that has saved lives. From food and diapers, to unemployment assistance, emergency housing placements in hotels, and a rapid employment recovery plan, we’re doing whatever it takes to raise our community up during the pandemic.
Take a look back with us at How it Started & How it’s Going:
La Colaborativa began “pop-up” food pantries in March 2020 from front porches, yards, and parking lots. The number of people looking for food was staggering. We knew we had to do more.
We moved the pop-up pantry to Pan Y Cafe in Chelsea and forged new partnerships with produce companies, grocery wholesalers, and other food donors. Still, some days we ran out of food and had to turn people away.
The support we received from the City of Chelsea, food suppliers, USDA, local restaurants, food rescue groups, volunteers and donors was overwhelming. We moved food distributions to our headquarters at 318 Broadway and were able to expand. We were serving 11,000 households weekly with fresh produce and meat, milk, culturally familiar foods, and diapers.
Our food line became a lifeline. We took the opportunity to talk with our neighbors, find out what else they needed or who else we should check on. Through these lines, residents accessed cash assistance, housing support, legal aid, unemployment benefits, job training, and whatever else they needed to survive.
The food crisis coincided with a housing crisis like we’ve never seen before. La Colaborativa began supporting thousands of families facing eviction. Cash assistance, emergency housing placements, statewide advocacy, and support with rental assistance applications have kept our families housed – so far.
Our headquarters took a beating from the food pantry. We got the work done with minimal equipment and lots of hard labor from staff and volunteers.
In July, The Neighborhood Developers donated 18,000 sq. feet of warehouse space at 25 Sixth Street for our food pantry operations for the next year. The space enabled us to keep expanding, invest in equipment, and serve thousands of families weekly.
Our building at 318 Broadway was damaged extensively by food pantry operations. Our local Carpenters’ and Painters’ Unions stepped up and donated labor and supplies for a full renovation of the space.
The holiday season and winter were hard on our community. Thanks to so many amazing donors, we were able to spread cheer with special holiday meals, toy distributions, cash assistance, and housing advocacy to keep people in their homes.
Renovations at 318 Broadway were completed this winter and we prepared to reopen our headquarters for community and staff use as the pandemic dragged on.
As Massachusetts began its vaccine rollout, we answered the call to partner with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and the City of Chelsea to open one of the state’s first community-based vaccination sites. We handed over the keys to 318 Broadway and mobilized to get our hard-hit community vaccinated quickly.
Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the warrior women of La Colaborativa. From our members, volunteers, staff, and allies to our courageous leaders Gladys Vega and Dinanyili Paulino, women are the heart of the work that we do for immigrant families!

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