Mission Wellness Fair connects Latinos to community resources

With salsa music playing in In Chan Kaajal Park in the Mission district on Saturday, 28-year-old Stephanie Garcia sat in a white tent and received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Even after resisting for more than a year, she was still skeptical, she said, about whether it would actually work.

But for the organizers of the “Vidas Saludables” community health and wealth fair in the park, Garcia’s decision to get vaccinated was proof that their community action was working. The bustling fair in the heart of the Mission was the latest effort by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) and its partners to connect with residents and visitors – especially Latinos – and provide them with information and useful services in the midst of the pandemic.

The goal was to provide a fun, community-focused event to help locals learn about the types of resources that are available to them, as well as to counter misinformation about COVID-19 testing, vaccines and more so,” said MEDA spokesman Christopher Gil.

“We’re breaking down barriers around all of this,” Gil said, adding that building trust within the community was crucial. “If your abuelita or your tía tells you to go get vaccinated, you will get vaccinated.”

Saturday’s fair, he said, was intended to create opportunities for people to learn and ask questions, eliminate the language barrier between Latinos and generally help residents find solutions to challenges related to the health and well-being.

Xiuhcoatl Danza Azteca performs at the “Vidas Saludables” Community Health and Wealth Fair hosted by the Mission Economic Development Agency at Chan Kaajal Park in San Francisco on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Jana Asenbrennerova/Special at The Chronicle

At the start of the pandemic, Gil said, Latinos in San Francisco were disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accounting for about half of all COVID-19 cases in the city despite accounting for just 15. % Population. Many Latinos are frontline workers, and crowded living conditions — common among Latino families in the Mission — made isolation difficult or impossible, he said.

At In Chan Kaajal Park on Saturday, music filled the air and an Aztec dance group performed as dozens of families marched from tent to tent. Many chatted with outreach workers or volunteers and picked up flyers with information on everything from medical, dental and mental health care to summer camps, affordable housing and local food banks.

In addition to vaccines and COVID-19 tests, the fair offered opportunities for HIV and blood pressure testing. Participants could speak with experts for financial support and learn about a variety of family services. Some people have played games or taken a live Zumba class. Others stopped by for a free massage or to pick up bags of fresh produce.

Zumba instructor Jenny Morales leads a Zumba class for attendees of the Community Health and Wealth Fair

Zumba instructor Jenny Morales leads a Zumba class for attendees of the “Vidas Saludables” Community Health and Wealth Fair at Chan Kaajal Park in San Francisco on April 23.

Jana Asenbrennerova/Special at The Chronicle

The fair highlighted ‘the love that exists in this community,’ Juan Sanchez, 68, said in Spanish after retrieving a flyer that encouraged people to call a phone number if they had questions about COVID . The fact that people could get vaccinated at the fair was “fantastic”, he said.

Under one of the tents was a large sheet of paper where people were encouraged to share their reasons for getting vaccinated. One person wrote that she got vaccinated because her job required it. Another wrote that he was living with someone who was at higher risk of becoming seriously ill. Several said they wanted to play a role in keeping their community safe.

Maria Sanchez, a promotora or outreach worker with the Promotoras Activas SF group, said she’s noticed local Latinos have become more receptive to seeking out COVID-related resources, such as vaccines and testing. In San Francisco, 89% of Latinos now have at least two doses of the vaccine, one of the highest vaccination rates among the city’s ethnic groups, Gil said.

Miriam Martinez, left, with her daughter Maria Valeria, 4, and her sister, Cristina Weaver, watch the performance of Xiuhcoatl Danza Azteca at the 'Vidas Saludables' health and wealth community fair in San Francisco on April 23 .

Miriam Martinez, left, with her daughter Maria Valeria, 4, and her sister, Cristina Weaver, watch the performance of Xiuhcoatl Danza Azteca at the ‘Vidas Saludables’ health and wealth community fair in San Francisco on April 23 .

Jana Asenbrennerova/Special at The Chronicle

Promotoras Activas SF has been working since last fall to connect with Latinos and help them take advantage of the resources that are available to them. Promoters like Sanchez do outreach and education, help people book appointments, and follow up with them afterwards to make sure the families they help feel supported.

“You want to help your people,” Sanchez said in Spanish. “We speak Spanish, we understand the culture, we understand where the concerns are coming from. At some point, many of us have found ourselves in the same situations.

Maria de Lourdes Covarrubias said she was able to pick up “a lot of new information” at the fair, finding useful resources about dental care that she didn’t know existed.

“It’s a very good thing,” she said of the fair. “With events like this, you start to learn how to get help.”

Andy Picon (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @andpicon