Efforts to help the homeless persist through pandemic
The coronavirus has kept many people stuck at home. Those with no home at all face a whole other set of challenges. That’s where Zelia Suarez, of the Seven Hills Foundation comes in.
As a community health educator at Seven Hills, a Massachusetts based health and human services agency, Suarez gathers donations for Wareham’s homeless and makes sure that the donations get to those in need.
Suarez and her coworker Louisa Jorge deliver donations by meeting people in neutral places like the parking lots of well-known businesses in town.
It’s a job and a calling for the two women. Suarez explained that she chose a career helping others after her son Raymond “Ray-Ray” Jorge (no relation to Louisa) died from an overdose three years ago.
Suarez said that since the pandemic reached Massachusetts, her work has “changed dramatically.”
Early on, she reached out to the Wareham Helping Wareham Facebook group to garner support, and since then she said the response from the community has been “unbelievable.”
On one occasion, she met a group of donors in a parking lot, and received so many items that she could not fit all of the donations in her car. Luckily, one of the donors agreed to take the overflowing supplies in her truck, and drove them to Suarez’s home in Buzzards Bay.
Suarez often praises donors as “Hometown Heroes” on the facebook page, but said that many donors prefer to stay anonymous.
In addition to food, hygiene products like masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer are becoming more and more important during the pandemic.
Suarez said that she and her work partner are also wearing masks while collecting and distributing donations, and following a “strict social distancing rule.” She said that this is important for the people she serves, as well as herself and her partner, as both she and Jorge suffer from auto-immune diseases, putting them at a heightened risk of the coronavirus.
She added that this has been difficult for her, as it makes kind gestures like a handshake, or pat on the back impossible when meeting with the people she helps.
“I was afraid it was going to hurt them,” she said about not wanting to offend people she cares about.
Sorting through donations now takes about twice as long as it did before the pandemic. Suarez explained that she rarely used to turn down donations, unless food items were expired. Now, bottles, cans, and other items are being sprayed and wiped down. Clothes must be freshly washed. Sandwiches, baked goods and other fresh food must be individually wrapped to ensure sanitary conditions. “It’s exhausting,” Suarez said of the additional labor.
Although Suarez and Jorge are working doubletime, they’ve had help from Angel, a formerly homeless woman who works as a community liaison.
Suarez spoke highly of Angel, saying that she will “walk up and down Cranberry Highway” to personally deliver food to homeless people she knows in the area.
For those who wish to make donations, Suarez can be reached at 508-566-0483, or on Facebook as “Zee Suarez.”
Suarez said that fresh fruit, hygiene products, masks and gloves, socks and blankets are especially needed.