Updated: May 1
By Bella Lewis
The volunteers and employees of Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island shone bright during the pandemic, ensuring that in a time of isolation, those in need did not slip through the cracks.
Since 2018, Alma Tovar, the outreach coordinator at OLA, had been forming relationships with those without access to transportation. Not only would she drive them to their medical appointments, she said, but "sometimes something else is bothering them": problems at home, food insecurity, or banking questions. She would be there to literally point them in the right direction.
The pandemic plus her pregnancy meant she had to shift gears to more administrative work, but eight brave OLA volunteers are continuing the work for 40 families.
Wally Ramirez, the organization's full-time crisis response coordinator, and Erica Padilla, the administrative assistant, "who does the lion's share of the work," have been incredible in this time, said Minerva Perez, OLA's executive director. "At the height of the pandemic, we ratcheted up, directly providing food support for 100 families, as far as Bay Shore and Lindenhurst," she said. A county and town collaboration allowed the organization to shop for and drop off food within 20 to 40 hours for families who reported being in need.
Ms. Perez also shared the exciting news that FEMA-Project Hope had awarded OLA a major funding grant, "allowing us to hire as many as three teams of crisis counselors" to help with mental health, health care, job loss, and education, building back resilience on the East End in the wake of Covid. With 20 people to hire, "it's almost like starting a brand-new not-for-profit," she said.