Before the pandemic hit, 33-year-old Darlene José lost her job selling phones at a Metro store. She had missed too many days caring for her 8-year-old son, Jerónimo, after he had surgery to remove his appendix.
Now school is closed and she can’t find work.
“I really can’t leave the house right now to go work because of my kids. I don’t want to leave the house and bring something back and they’ll get worse.”
As the mother of three boys — Jerónimo, Juancarlos, 12, and William, 13, — who all have chronic asthma, she’s had to be very careful to ensure they are not exposed to the coronavirus.
She said William has ADHD and she hasn’t been able to get his medication because the pharmacy has been short on stock. Even her parents, who moved in to help her, have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
“I’ve been struggling this month,” José said.
José is used to helping others who are struggling. As vice president of the parent-teacher organization at Longfellow Community School where her sons attended before the shutdown, she would help organize homework help sessions and hand out food from the school food pantry every Thursday. And as a lifetime resident of Milwaukee’s south side, she’s always been active in her community.
But now, she needs help.
José is one of around 212 people in 54 families who will receive a free hot meal as part of Safe & Sound’s Family Friday Meal program next week.
Family Meal program
Safe & Sound Inc. is a local organization that focuses on youth engagement and community building in several Milwaukee neighborhoods including Park Square, Midtown, Metcalfe Park, Westlawn, Sherman Park and Harambee.
Sarah Bloom, development and PR manager of Safe & Sound, said the idea of the Family Friday meal program came from community organizers, who noticed that the families they served were split in two groups: those in need and those who wanted to help.
“Safe and Sound is known as being the connectors in Milwaukee, especially in the neighborhoods that we work in,” she said. “We, as the development team leaders and fundraisers, wanted to be supportive of our team and the residents.”
One of the ways to do that, according to Joe’Mar Hooper, the organization’s executive director, was to address food shortages.
“(We) are hearing that food insecurity is one of the things folks are dealing with most in our community,” he said. “We decided that we could take a look at how we can address food insecurity on a very micro level, but we’re hoping we can put a dent in some of the hunger.”
Safe & Sound did that by raising $2,600 and paying Mi Casa Su Cafe to cook the meals.
The black-owned restaurant at 1835 N. King Drive is still open for business, but like many others has suffered economically because of the pandemic. The partnership with Safe & Sound means it will have funds to cook and deliver meals to families in need.
“We all know that a hot meal is really comforting but also plain nourishment,” Bloom said.
Bridget Robinson, Safe & Sound’s program director, said that’s especially true of those like José, who are being affected in this way for the first time.
“That sometimes people feel uncomfortable standing in line to receive food and we’ve heard that from people,” she said. “The fact that we can offer this food from a restaurant is responding to wanting to see dignity in access to food.”
José learned Wednesday that her family will be one of those to receive the meals.
“I feel grateful and thankful for everybody that has been helping out the community,” she said. “I’ve never been through a hard time like this.”
“I want to get a job and continue paying my bills on time like I always did,” she said. “When we’re back up on our feet, I always give back to my community where I grew up.”