When Covid-19 struck, neighbors came together to help each other in Chirilagua—especially Julio. Julio has always involved himself in the community and in CLI by attending all CLI meetings, all parent-teacher conferences and working hard to keep the neighborhood safe. So when Covid-19 hit Chirilagua harder than any other area of Alexandria, Julio stepped up once again. “My work hours have decreased, so I have had the opportunity to help out more, especially with food distribution.” Because a large number of Chirilagua residents have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, families struggle to put food on the table. Thanks to CLI donor contributions and grants from ACT for Alexandria, families receive regular meals, and Julio makes sure his neighbors get them. He explains: “I pick up the food boxes or breakfasts. I take them to my home. I like to keep a list of the people who will come to pick up the food. As they come, I cross off their names and contact staff once I finish with the food distribution.”
In past years, CLI’s Community Garden has also benefitted from Julio’s care. “In the past I have helped with the garden at Fifer. I clean the garden and plant tomatoes, peppers, and radishes.” These are the vegetables every family in the neighborhood uses to create traditional Central American meals. Julio describes his wife’s cooking and why CLI’s garden is so important to the community. “Tomatoes and jalapenos are the most popular. We can eat these with most meals. And we always cook traditional recipes.” CLI is in the process of obtaining seeds, soil, and other garden necessities, and soon Julio will plant and harvest fresh, organic vegetables for his neighbors once again. When asked about gardening he says, “I like everything about it. I have not worked in the garden this year, but if I get the opportunity I would like to clean it, plant vegetables that the kids like, and water it.” The free vegetables that CLI’s Community Garden provides are the only fresh produce that many Chirilagua families can afford, so Julio is eager to get started. “I think that we could get as much produce as previous years. Previous harvests have been good. Tomatoes do very well and can be harvested sometimes daily.”
When Julio came to the United States from El Salvador, he says, “I was a teenager, and I realized there were no opportunities in my country. I did not have a job. I had to come to the U.S. and learn how to work.” Yet, he says, “I miss my extended family. But I have my wife and children with me. I know they will have more opportunities here. That makes me feel better.” CLI helps by providing Chirilagua families with adult enrichment programs and out-of-school academic and mentoring programs for their children. “CLI has positively impacted the community,” Julio comments. “They provide opportunities for our kids and for parents.” Chirilagua and CLI are fortunate to have Julio. He is truly a neighbor helping neighbors in a time of need.