Brian Zhang, Contributing Photographer

As the New Haven community continues to adjust to life in the pandemic, Junta for Progressive Action — a Latinx nonprofit that serves residents of color — has evolved its programming to better meet the needs of city dwellers. 

When the pandemic struck, Junta temporarily paused its operations. But in recent months, the organization — which provides free legal services, youth programs, recreational outlets and educational platforms — has undertaken its projects via a hybrid operational model. These new activities include partnering with local hospitals and pharmacies to serve as an in-person vaccination site that also distributes COVID-19 preventionary supplies, such as masks and protective gear. 

“Junta adapts its services based on the needs of the people,” said Cheila Serrano, Junta’s director of social services. 

In the past, Junta invited residents to the center’s parking lot for outdoors flu shots, in addition to doing canvass work throughout the city to encourage community members to get them. They also hosted back-to-school giveaway events and community giveaways prior to the start of the school year.

While currently limited to in-person events and vaccinations on Fridays, Junta’s social services outside of vaccinations are as important as ever, according to Serrano. She added that the pandemic hit low-income families especially hard, with many people finding themselves losing jobs, in complex legal situations and turning to government assistance. According to the Department of Numbers, New Haven’s unemployment rate peaked at 10.5 percent in July of 2020, with over 300 people experiencing homelessness and over 110,000 residents receiving SNAP benefits

“Tackling multiple crises at once … is happening to many of our constituents,” Executive Director Bruni Pizarro said. “We’re trying to kind of serve the public … in a way that is a 360 model.”

Through presentations, donations to local supermarkets, consulting sessions and restorative educational programs, Junta helps bridge the gap between families and government services. In response to increasing evictions and the colder months of the pandemic, the organization too has started funds on its own, which residents can apply to for assistance paying rent and utility bills. 

Pizarro explained that Junta’s motivation to become a vaccination site was due to the lack of awareness and accessibility to vaccines that existed both locally and nationally for low-income minority groups.

Since the pandemic began, the city has launched a number of vaccination campaigns, including a series of student-athlete-led advertisements directed toward youth groups and communities of color and Yale New Haven Health System’s participation in the nationwide “Get the Vaccine to Save Lives” project. In a press conference outside City Hall on Sept. 14, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that 64.7 percent of Elm City residents were fully vaccinated.

Pizarro also credits Junta’s involvement in vaccine distribution to many community health organizations — the New Haven Health Department, Griffin Hospital and the Yale Child Study Center. She added that the team is particularly proud of its August 30 pop-up clinic and community fair event, which garnered over 400 attendees. Last month, 63 people were vaccinated through Junta-sponsored services and events. With the Delta-variant becoming a growing concern, the organization expects to continue its vaccination services throughout the rest of September and onward. 

Junta also attributes the success of its community events to the decadeslong relationship that it has built with residents. Serrano described the organization as a second home to its constituents and a place where low-income minorities of all immigration statuses can find trust, which has been essential to its pandemic response. 

Pizarro explained that part of their reason for adopting a hybrid model was to solidify the sense of trust that is not as transparently communicated over remote platforms.

“[There is] a lack of trust for the medical model … a fear that they might get deported at the hospital … and [other] myths,” Pizarro said.

Not to mention, particular affinity groups which Junta hopes to draw, such as people experiencing homelessness and people who are undocumented, may not have easy access to technology, she added. 

As a result, Junta’s weekly events combine professional services and presentations with giveaways, food and even DJs to restore the socialization aspects of pre-COVID life. The recreational aspects are new strategies implemented by the organization to better connect with the public, according to Pizarro.

The increasingly diverse services and resources offered by Junta also came with opportunities for new and old collaborations with non-medical organizations — such as Dwight Hall, the National Dropout Prevention Center, local churches and the FOCUS on New Haven pre-orientation program. 

Dwight Hall Executive Director Peter Crumlish said that Yale interns helped administer relief systems and develop after-school support for local students. Moreover, this past summer, participants in the FOCUS program worked on Junta’s Diaper Delivery Service project by remotely coordinating the contactless distribution of diapers and setting up an outdoors tent for COVID vaccinations and relief services.

The next event, scheduled for Friday, Sept. 24, from 1 to 6 p.m., features consultation services to address utility and household energy-related questions or needs. 

Owen Tucker-Smith contributed reporting.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!