After the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant caught fire, many people in the vicinity had to evacuate with no emergency funds or plans. And for the Latino community, there were more challenges, including language barriers and the fear of asking for help. Many of them turned to local community organizations instead of government entities.
Hogar del Inmigrante, or The Immigrant Home, is a nonprofit organization that has provided social services for the Latino community in the Triad for many years. It's heavily involved in the community. So it was no surprise that when a fire broke out at the Weaver Fertilizer Plant, Connie Trejo was one of the first people residents called. She's the executive director of the organization.
"A lot of our clients live in the vicinity of the fire plant, and obviously when the incident happened one of our clients called, and he was a senior citizen," said Trejo. "They were really scared and they were screaming, 'Miss Connie, please, come on, fire!' and I asked, 'What? Your house?' and they said, 'No, the fertilizer plant," said Trejo.
The day after the fire, Trejo posted a flier on social media asking for all members of the community who have been affected by the fire to contact the organization or go directly to them for emotional and financial support. But she wasn't expecting so many people to come forward.
"People didn't understand, it was chaos, nobody went to get them out, there were only firefighters and they didn't speak Spanish," explained Trejo. "A lot of Hispanic people locked themselves in their homes because they didn't understand."
One of the residents, Zoila Sevilla Ayala, said she knew what was going on thanks to her relatives who called her since they knew English. The next day, she saw the flier on Hogar del Inmigrante's Facebook page.
"We went first and foremost to know what was going on and what was going to happen, and if the fire would have health repercussions. We went to receive information."
Sevilla Ayala didn't know about the organization before, but since the incident has been staying current and keeping up with information from Hogar del Inmigrante, since she felt like it was one of the only places she could get help.
"We are a marginalized community because we are Latinos," explains a concerned Sevilla Ayala. "And I've seen that we haven't been receiving the support we need. Now that I know that the nonprofit is there I feel supported, and protected, and I know I have somewhere to run. I wish there were more organizations like these."
Many turned to community organizations led by Latinos due to the language barrier, fear of prosecution due to a lack of documentation, and faster response time. Daniel Sostaita, the founder of Iglesia Cristiana Sin Fronteras, says the church was also a go-to place because of its involvement in the community and the bilingual information it can provide.
"It's easier to call the church than the police, it's easier to call the Hispanic League than the county. They will understand in Spanish. They won't ask for papers. People connect faster with people they trust and know. The government doesn't have information in Spanish, the county doesn't have a page in Spanish, or a direct line they could call in their mother tongue. So in case of an emergency, you want to speak to someone who understands you."
The trouble is, this puts an incredible strain on some of these resources, like Hogar Del Inmigrante. In total, over 450 people contacted the organization, which helped at least 200 families with funds. But the money is gone. It exhausted its funds due to the fire.
The City of Winston-Salem is trying to fill the gap. At a recent meeting, the city council approved a reimbursement of up to $1,000 to everyone who was affected by the Weaver fire.
An application fair is planned for March 9. You must bring receipts and show up in person. And if you don't have them you can fill out a form to get a maximum of $300. For a lot of these families living paycheck to paycheck, that help can't come soon enough.
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022