by PAUL BICKLEY
El Centro Comunal Latino (Latino Community Center), Room 200 of the Monroe County Public Library, provides native Spanish speakers with access to resources and a place to hold community events. But when much of Bloomington closed for the pandemic, El Centro’s sole employee, part-time director and health services coordinator Jane Walter, transformed the nonprofit organization into a financial-aid institution, raising funds and paying rent and utility bills for many local Latinos.
So far, Walter has raised $81,500 through grant proposals and social media, with help from Josefa Luce, Latino outreach coordinator for the City of Bloomington’s Community and Family Resources Department. “Without Josefa,” Walter says, “I’d have been under water.”
Sources of the funding have included the United Way of Monroe County COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund Phases 1 and 2, a City of Bloomington Jack Hopkins Social Services grant, four churches and religious groups, private donations (including a single donation of $10,000), and a GoFundMe page set up by Indiana University professor of history Ellen Wu, who is also a member of the Bloomington Immigration Justice Task Force.
“Many local Latinos,” Walter says, “work in hourly wage jobs at restaurants and hotels or in the gig economy [such as cleaning houses] hit hard by the economic downturn. They have little to no access to unemployment compensation, government stimulus checks, health insurance, or township assistance. El Centro has offered up to $500 a month per household. That sounds like a lot, but monthly rent is at least $445.”
Walter recently submitted additional grant proposals. “The biggest goal is to prevent homelessness,” she says. “Some people don’t know when they’ll work again.”
“Jane Walter’s unceasing labors on behalf of our immigrant neighbors are truly indispensable,” says Wu. “She scrambled overtime to patch together emergency funds for area Latinos. At a time when the political climate in this country has become frighteningly inhospitable to newcomers, Jane radiates hope and compassion to lift us all.”
Walter has also kept local Latinos informed of other sources of money and of food and furniture— Bloomington Salvation Army, the Bloomington Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, and the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.
“It’s not just one pair of boots on the ground. It’s many pairs,” Walter says. “It makes me proud to live here.”
Visit elcentrocomunal.com for more information.