By Nsiona Nguizani, President, Angolan Community of Maine

COVID-19 is the biggest challenge in our lifetime, and the effects of this virus serve as an additional challenge for many refugee and immigrant communities, which have already been through so much. But we are resilient people, especially with partner organizations and individuals standing by our side. Yes, “we are all in this together,” but for low-income families, the urgent need for support is more intense. The Angolan Community of Maine is working through various programs to mitigate the severity of the situation for Angolan immigrants. We are trying to convert the challenges of COVID-19 into opportunities, so our community can bounce back. During the past months, the Angolan Community of Maine (ACM) has been in constant contact with Angolan immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers throughout the state. Our work includes:

1). Responding to distress calls we receive frequently from our members through our COVID-19 Call Center.

2) Serving families affected both directly and indirectly by COVID-19 (unemployment, quarantine, layoffs, stay at home orders, closing of school, and so on) thanks to grants from Good Shepherd Food Bank and Haymarket People’s Fund. We help those who cannot go out, or who do not have reliable transportation or child care, by bringing groceries right to their doors. Some of the food comes from food pantries at Wayside and St. Mary’s Church. We are also able to provide culturally appropriate food  (thanks to our grant). We added diapers to our deliveries a few weeks ago, thanks to our partnership with the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine.

3) Implementing our FEED Program [Find, Encounter, Ensure, Distribute], which was initially set to end by August 22. We plan to stick with the August 22 end date because of the high costs associated with buying and delivering culturally appropriate foods. Unfortunately, the need for food is growing. We began by serving 30 families, but now we are up to 100-plus families in both Cumberland and Androscoggin counties. We have reduced the frequency of deliveries to once every two weeks, but it is still impossible for us to continue the program past August 22.

4) Assisting our members infected with COVID-19 toward complete medical, social, and financial recovery with the help of providers like Southern Maine Workers Center (worker compensation and unemployment benefits), Maine Access Immigrant Network (mental health support), and Welcome the Stranger (networking).

5) Launching a Mentoring/Tutoring Program and a Children’s Reading Program (20 books per kid in English and Portuguese), both of which will accompany our children throughout the 2020 – 2021 academic year. If interested in volunteering, please contact Nsiona Nguizani at [email protected]. These programs are in the planning stages.

6) Educating our members about COVID-19 and how to deal with the other issues already on the table prior to the pandemic (immigration, education, etc.)