Tanairi Garcia looked around the lobby of the food pantry which had closed for the evening with a sigh: “This is Chelsea’s emergency room. We call it a food pantry, but this is an emergency room.”
Tanairi is La Colaborativa’s Food Pantry Director and spends her days doing whatever it takes to get food out to our families. She and her staff know many food recipients by name and spend time walking the food lines to check in with people and see how they’re doing. More often than not, the supports needed (and provided) go far beyond food.
There are newly arrived immigrants to Chelsea whose first stop is La Colaborativa after enduring unspeakable traumas and family separations during their journeys north. There are unemployed workers, evicted tenants, and worried parents. Victims of domestic violence, consumer fraud, and other crimes who are afraid to reach out to police due to immigration status or fear of retaliation. People searching for information from a trusted source – about COVID, vaccinations, accessing healthcare, and asserting their rights. It’s the culmination of a community of people who have faced a lifetime of structural inequities, lack of opportunity, and cycles of poverty that keep them in constant survival mode.
Tanairi often finds herself as the first point of contact for people in crisis, stepping in to help families secure housing, schooling, counseling and a long list of other services. What started as a food pantry has quickly evolved into a full service survival center, teeming with staff, case managers and community partners at the ready to meet the needs of our community.
Over the last two years, our food pantry has adapted to the ever changing needs of our community in crisis by listening to the voices in our food line. While we opened our doors as a food pantry in response to the overwhelming food insecurity brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become so much more. 5,000 or more families each week access free food, clothing, and essentials at 25 Sixth Street, but many more seek out La Colaborativa’s full scope of wrap-around services while in crisis.
That’s why, in 2022, La Colaborativa will open the Chelsea Survival Center, a central hub where all our services, from housing help and RAFT applications to job placement and more, can be found. This space, owned by La Colaborativa and our community members, will be a place that everyone in Chelsea, and beyond, feel that they’re safe and at home.