Henderson County has Western North Carolina’s highest population per capita of Latinx residents. And the County’s Health Department reports a third of COVID-19 cases are among individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latinx. That’s why the state Department of Health and Human Services has directed $100,000 to the Hendersonville-based non-profit True Ridge.
Executive Director Lori Garcia-McCammon says since the pandemic hit in mid-March, she’s been flooded with calls from individuals who are undocumented.
"A lot of our families have been affected because of work, and then they don’t know where money is going to come from to put food on the table. And they'll come in here, anxious. They'll say, 'I don't know where to ask, I'm not supposed to ask for help,'" Garcia-McCammon said.
Garcia-McCammon says before the state funding came in, True Ridge relied on grants from local agencies like Pisgah Health Foundation and UnitedWay/Community Foundation of Henderson County. Those funds were snapped up immediately to assist families struggling to pay for things like rent, utilities and food. She’s worried that the piecemeal emergency funding won’t last the duration of the pandemic.
"We need to continue paying our staff. If we don’t our staff here, and we don't have money for operations, we can’t continue to do the great work I believe we’re doing. How are we going to keep asking for money for this? It doesn’t seem sustainable," Garcia-McCammon said.
Garcia-McCammon says a lack of outreach and education efforts for Western Carolina’s undocumented and temporary workforce is a major reason why Covid disproportionately affects the Latinx population. She says she’s spoken with employees who work in areas, like food packing and construction, who aren’t seeing social distancing measures being enforced.
DHHS wouldn’t give specifics but says its contract with True Ridge aims to support prevention efforts, testing and supporting individuals living in isolation, specifically among the county’s Hispanic population.
It’s one of five contracts the department allocated statewide. But the situation continues to worsen in the state’s rural Westernmost counties. In Macon County, for instance, Latinx people account for 76 percent of its total coronavirus cases. Macon County Public Health says just last week, nine farm workers tested positive for COVID-19 at Norton Creek Farms in Franklin.