For many nonprofit organization, COVID-19 has presented a new set of challenges, but for Barrios Unidos, a grassroots nonprofit organization located in Chimayo, NM, the pandemic has highlighted the dedication and commitment or their volunteers.
“[Our volunteers] have expressed their commitment and dedication to support individuals that are in need. They arrived bringing gloves, masks, and a positive attitude taking charge,” Lupe Salazar, Barrios Unidos Executive Director said.
Barrios was birthed out of the growing opioid epidemic in the area. Barrios Unidos relies on volunteers to provide support within the organization and COVID-19 has propelled the organization to an essential establishment within the community.
Barrios Unidos volunteers assist twice a month for the food distribution program with many of the volunteers driving from as far as Coyote, Chamisal, Alcalde, and Fairview.
“We are here to be of support to the individual struggling with addiction, support family shattered by the addiction, and re-engage community through the spirit of Querencia,” Salazar said.
During the pandemic, the organization’s food box demand has risen considerably. Despite the increased work, Barrios Unidos volunteers work hard and never complain, Salazar said. “They have shared more than once how good they feel inside to be of support.”
After the state’s first reported case of COVID-19, Salazar recruited volunteers, expressing the need for the organization’s work during the pandemic.
“[Our volunteers told me] they believed in Barrios Unidos mission and vision,” Salazar said. “They shared they were so grateful and how they looked forward to these important days.”
The community has benefited greatly from Barrios Unidos and their volunteer team, collecting donations and offering encouragement.
“We share clothes that have been outgrown, we bring diapers someone else can use…we support each other,” Salazar said. “Due to the stigma and discrimination of addiction we could not allow community to feel they had been left alone."
The opioid epidemic has already had a large impact on their community, Salazar said. “We suffered from traumas that not everyone could just bounce back from, shamed with stigma and discrimination and there was nowhere to go and talk about the addiction that plagued our families. I created this brave space here at Barrios, earning the trust needed to let down our guards.”
A safe space Salazar wasn’t willing to lose.
“Due to COVID-19 and the social distancing I knew it would cause more pain to just close our doors and let these folks, now a huge part of our family, suffer silently again. Barrios Unidos volunteers said we are family, and no one is left behind.”