“If she couldn’t get the money, she would be evicted.”
It all started this past fall with what seemed like a routine request for financial assistance.
Letty*, one of the women from the food co-op, had an emergency. Her son’s car had broken down, so Letty had done what any mother would do — she gave her son the money he needed to get his car fixed. But when it came time for Letty to pay her rent, she realized she would need to ask for help for herself.
Letty knew that Ciudad Nueva had helped other people in similar situations, so she came to Tamy Diaz, Launch Pad Coordinator and Community Connector, with her request for assistance. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, Ciudad Nueva didn’t have the funds to be able to help Letty that month.
“Sometimes families are in need of help with an electric bill, rent, or other basic needs that we’re unable to meet for one reason or another,” Tamy says. “When that happens, we refer them to other resources in the community.”
Tamy was confident that one community resource in particular would be able to assist her with her rent, so when Letty came back to her empty-handed, Tamy was heartbroken. “I felt helpless, like I wasn’t doing my job.” Tamy says. “I could see it in Letty’s face: She knew that if she couldn’t get the money, she would be evicted.”
“It’s their money, and it’s there for the community to use.”
For Tamy, this wasn’t a routine request for assistance any longer — it had become a turning point. She couldn’t get past the feeling that there was more Ciudad Nueva should be able to do in situations like this. So she brought up her concerns while talking with Alma Martinez, Food Co-op Manager, and some of the other women from the co-op. They all agreed that it would be good to set aside some money in case something like this should come up again in the future. They brought their idea to Bethany Molinar, Director of Youth & Family Programs and Grant Manager, who talked with them about microloans.
Microloans are low- to no-interest loans that are often issued by individuals or communities rather than by banks or other financial institutions. As the loans are paid back, the fund is replenished, making it possible for additional loans to be issued.
In order to get their microloan fund off the ground, the women from the food co-op decided to make and sell tamales. A massive bag of corn husks had been donated to the co-op earlier in the month, and with the Christmas holiday approaching, it was perfect timing. Ciudad Nueva bought the rest of the supplies, and Tamy helped secure preorders. “But [the women] did all the work,” Tamy says. “They prepared the chile, cooked the meat, bagged the tamales. They sold to their neighbors, churches … everybody.”
Together the women sold 26 dozen tamales at $12 per dozen. All the proceeds went to the microloan fund. “It’s their money,” Tamy says, “and it’s there for the community to use.”
The women have already received inquiries about microloans from other community members, so they are determining together how to manage the fund. “They are working on establishing a community board to help determine how to lend the money,” Bethany says. Staff are there to guide and assist them.
“These aren’t volunteers; this is family.”
Since the creation of the food co-op in 2017, Bethany has noticed an increase in the sense of community among the adults who are involved at Ciudad Nueva. “They feel welcome at Ciudad Nueva.” she says. “They hang out with one another and have started sharing about their visions and their needs.”
Bethany and Tamy both feel strongly that the idea of a microloan fund never would have taken root without this deep sense of community. And they know that this is just the beginning. “Our work with adults is still new,” Bethany says. “It has just recently started blossoming.”
“These aren’t volunteers,” Tamy says, “This is family. They are individuals I respect. They have taken Ciudad Nueva under their wings and are loving on all of us. Ciudad Nueva has given back to the community, and the community is giving back to us.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.