Published April 27, 2020 on Phoenix New Times
By Kris Vera-Phillips
On Saturday morning, a handful of day laborers waited for jobs at a parking lot entrance to Home Depot and Walmart on Thomas Road near 36th Street.
Work has been in short supply here lately, due to the coronavirus pandemic. But thanks to the Barrio Defense Committees â€” a Phoenix advocacy group that’s served this specific community for about 15 years â€” many of those gathered at least walked away with supplies from a white truck filled with $10,000 worth of food paid for by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
â€œWeâ€™re going to give them 10 pounds of rice, 10 pounds of beans, 10 pounds of potatoes,â€ said organizer Sal Reza. â€œJust the basics. A lot of them have been unable to work because nobody is picking them up.â€
Bandanas and temperature checks were also being given out to the day laborers. Reza said he had driven by this site and other locations a couple days earlier to give workers a heads-up about the food distribution. One man, Salvador Gonzalez, said he found out about the food distribution when he saw the truck and volunteers drive into the parking lot. â€œThis is excellent,â€ he said, then described the unpredictable nature of booking jobs as a day laborer.
â€œIt’s hard, I mean, you never know what you’re going to get,â€ Gonzalez says. â€œYou might get one day or two days in a row, but then you might not find something else the next day.â€
Rezaâ€™s group also gave out food to domestic workers who were in need this past Saturday. Maria Alvarado said she is now living in a van because she couldnâ€™t afford the rent on her apartment.
â€œIâ€™m not working right now and my job was cleaning houses,â€ she said. â€œBut now people donâ€™t want us in their homes. I know itâ€™s because of coronavirus.â€
Eventually, committee members moved north after a security guard said his Walmart supervisor wanted the group to leave the property. The company later said it was unaware of the request.
â€œWe appreciate individuals who are providing basic needs to others during this challenging time,” said Walmart spokesperson Leigh Stidham in an email. “We have no knowledge of the described incident happening at the front of our store.â€
Jesus Aguilar met the committee’s white truck at another day laborer location, just down the street from McDonald’s at East Bell Road and 25th Street. He has been working in Phoenix for the last 15 years.
â€œIâ€™m a painter. I also do stucco and drywall. Sometimes Iâ€™m a carpenter,â€ Aguilar said, as translated by Reza. â€œWe want people to know we’re still here in the morning from 5:30 until 10 or 11 a.m. Weâ€™re asking them to come and give us a job. That will help us the most.â€
Reza and committee members met with workers at other locations, including a Home Depot at Bell and Cave Creek roads. Reza said he donated food to at least 120 people this weekend.
â€œItâ€™s time,” he said, “to be compassionate.”