Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga has been responding to the needs of the Latinx community in the Half Moon Bay area since she founded Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, or ALAS, in 2011. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker who holds a PhD in Education, Belinda has focused her efforts on farmworker families, their children, and the youth of the Latinx community in Half Moon Bay.
Under Belinda’s leadership, ALAS expanded from a cultural arts and community mental health organization to one which also offered immigration and social justice advocacy. Recently though, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Belinda and the ALAS staff added critical new services to help Half Moon Bay’s approximately 35% Latinx population cope with the overwhelming challenges brought on by the shelter in place mandates.
Rising to the occasion with determination and imagination, Belinda and her team created a special care campaign, Un Respiro de Vida (“A Breath of Life”), which provides free protective face masks for local essential workers. Although farming had been determined an “essential service”, farmworkers, as well as other essential workers, were unable to find protective face masks. The ALAS MAMAS (parents of children participating in the arts program) stepped up and began making masks as they sheltered in place. To date, ALAS has provided over 6,000 masks to the Half Moon Bay community, as well as other farming communities in need.
Next, ALAS initiated Farmworker Fridays which provide weekly free lunches and clean, fresh drinking water delivered to workers in the field. Many coastside farms do not have potable water due to nitrates or other contaminants in wells, so water has been especially welcome, as well as the camaraderie.
In mid-April, a Pop-Up Food Pantry was kick-started in partnership with the City of Half Moon Bay. It came about after Peninsula Food Runners reached out to ALAS staff member Joaquin Jimenez to deliver food from Trader Joe’s to several local families. Realizing that the need was much greater, Belinda and her team met with Half Moon Bay officials to set up shop in front of the Library. With the help of many organizations including Coastside Farmers’ Market, Mariners Church, Coastside Hope, and Abundant Grace, essential food staples and fresh produce as well as food gift cards are given out every Saturday to over 100 families. This is truly a community effort with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to help.
Even though Latinx comprise more than one-third of Half Moon Bay’s population, they have lacked community services for years. And, in addition to the ongoing challenges of immigration, affordable safe housing, and job security, the community faced another unfortunate challenge last fall with the closure of Bay City Flowers, one of the City’s largest employers. Its closure put some 300 people – the majority of them Latinx – out of work. But again, Belinda and the ALAS staff came to the aid of those in need by reaching out to local businesses, and successfully getting many of them to step in to help ease the situation.
Belinda, who also co-founded and remains engaged in the Latino Advisory Council in Half Moon Bay, has inspired many others with her vision, leadership, and service to her community. We salute you, Belinda, for creating healing spaces and providing essential service in this great time of need and continuing your work to meet the challenges facing the Latinx community in the Half Moon Bay area.