Coronavirus: Need help paying a bill or buying groceries? There’s a donor for that.
Christy Padilla requested help with groceries from Pandemic of Love and was eventually matched with a donor who bought the groceries, plus a bouquet of flowers. Photo courtesy of Christy Padilla.

    For many of San Jose’s low-income families, paying a utility bill, filling the gas tank or buying groceries is becoming increasingly difficult as stay-at-home orders stretch out. Pandemic of Love, a San Jose-based chapter of a larger organization, aims to streamline the giving process, making it easier for immigrant and undocumented communities to seek help.

    The mutual-aid organization started in Florida, serving as a bridge between philanthropists and recipients. Both sides fill out a form, and are matched by volunteers based on the donor’s ability to give and recipients’ specific needs. The movement eventually spread to local communities across the nation and received endorsements from notable names, including former Vice President and presidential nominee Joe Biden.

    For Sheridan Amarillas, Pandemic of Love’s San Jose coordinator, the organization is a way for her to support her community. Amarillas, an East San Jose native, herself has been hit by the pandemic’s economic ramifications, losing her job in the hospitality industry.

    “We do want to reach those who are the most vulnerable and aren’t receiving any additional help, who are most affected by the virus,” Amarillas, 26, said. “We’re not asking for any information that an undocumented person might feel puts them at risk or make them uncomfortable providing.”

    Requests for help, Amarillas said, tell the story of various situations in the COVID-19 era, including single parents struggling to pay the bills, young people supporting their families and seniors giving shelter to other family members. The age range of requesters is from 19 to 64 years old, Amarillas added.

    For Christy Padilla, challenges have mounted up during the pandemic, coupled with the pain of losing her partner last year.

    The county’s shelter-in-place orders started the week Padilla, a breast cancer survivor, had scheduled a back surgery for her chronic pain. As hospitals shut down, that appointment had to be rescheduled.

    And while non-elective surgeries have been given the go-ahead, according to Padilla, the department where she needs to get her procedure done has not reopened.

    “I’m just waiting,” Padilla, 45, said. “It’s a scary thing.”

    Padilla is no stranger to Silicon Valley’s homelessness crisis either. Her oldest son has been unhoused since last August, and Padilla pays for a hotel room to reduce his exposure to COVID-19. Housing her son and his girlfriend with her is virtually impossible, Padilla said, as she’s also raising two more children.

    “When (the virus) hit, I put him in a room for a month on my credit card so it’s been really tough,” Padilla said. “You want all your kids safe.”

    Yet, Padilla told San José Spotlight that asking for help is still hard. Among the options to request help with rent, utilities or pharmacy bills, Padilla asked for groceries.

    A week later, Padilla’s donor dropped off bags of food at her apartment building. Standing six feet apart, Padilla got to say ‘thank you.’

    “She brought me flowers with my groceries,” Padilla said. “It was a colorful, beautiful gesture on top of the food.”

    Despite all her trials and tribulations, Padilla refuses to see herself as a victim. Before her double mastectomy, she was working on various degrees in sociology, administration of justice and liberal arts at UC Santa Cruz.

    “I always look at anything negative that comes my way as a stepping stone, and I make the best out of each moment,” Padilla told San José Spotlight. “I take everything a day at a time now.”

    Mitch Del Rosario, 32, is a San Jose-based real estate agent. And while business is slower, Del Rosario said it’s a rough time for everybody.

    “I was in a position to help others who are struggling at this time, that might not have a job anymore or not be able to work and not have the finances to take care of their family,” Del Rosario said. “We’re all in this together.”

    For Del Rosario, the donating process was painless. After filling out a form, Pandemic of Love introduced him to requesters via email before Del Rosario donated via Venmo.

    His first recipient was a mother who needed groceries and diapers for her children; the second recipient also needed groceries.

    “What I would say to the folks that have the ability to give and haven’t gotten to it is if you have the opportunity, there are good people out there that could use some assistance,” Del Rosario said. “Pandemic of Love (is) carefully monitoring it and making sure that it’s going to good people with good genuine needs, and it’s all a positive experience for everybody.”

    If you are in need of help and based in Santa Clara County, fill out this form.

    If you want to give help and are based in Santa Clara County, fill out this form or donate via Venmo @pandemicoflovesanjose.

    Those interested in volunteering for Pandemic of Love can contact [email protected].

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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