Consciously or not, Adnoris ‘Bo’ Torres has advocated for food equity his entire life.
When his family moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1986, they battled food insecurity early on.
It became a constant feature of his youth.
When he later attended college, he worked to pay for his classes and rent. But he also visited food pantries to help supply his groceries.
Those life experiences taught him much about empathy and compassion.
As a young teacher in Detroit, he kept food in his desk drawer to feed students who would come into his classroom hungry.
Those same life lessons have now led him to his current position as executive director of the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, where the battle against food inequity is in its prime.
COVID-19 has brought hundreds from the LatinX community to the center’s distribution site, each one seeking assistance with meals and other services.
The Hispanic Center has been front and center in the fight against food insecurity—and COVID-19 hasn’t been its first crisis.
At its core, however, the Hispanic Center is not a food pantry.
And food insecurity isn’t the only focus.
The primary goal? Educate, advocate and empower the LatinX community.
Meeting basic needs—such as access to food—helps achieve that goal.
The center also assists in providing social services such as workforce development and access to health care, transportation, education and language.
It constantly evolves to meet community needs.
During the polar vortex of 2019, Torres quickly recognized the importance of keeping emergency provisions on hand for area residents.
“We started to see and receive calls about food insecurity that was happening in the community,” Torres said. “People did not have food at home. It was not budgeted—and it could not be budgeted when you have a family that is making below a living wage. It is an issue.”
That’s when a relationship blossomed between the Hispanic Center and Kids’ Food Basket.
During a crisis, Kids’ Food Basket delivers meals to Cesar Chavez Elementary school, on behalf of the Hispanic Center. Sack Suppers are distributed to families in need.
“It has been a relationship of trust that we have established between the two organizations,” Torres said. “I know that if I were to call (Kids’ Food Basket) and tell them about the issues that we are facing as a community, they would have a response—and there would be a proactive response.”
It’s a response the LatinX community has come to depend on—and it has been increasingly important amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accentuated longstanding racial disparities.
A recent CDC study in New York City found that COVID-19 death rates among black residents and Hispanic residents were significantly higher than white residents.
In Michigan, African Americans account for 40% of COVID-19 deaths, despite making up just 14% of the state’s population.
Other dynamics continue to complicate matters.
An undocumented person in Michigan cannot get a driver’s license, for instance, which leaves some Hispanic individuals unable to drive to the hospital for testing.
If sick or scared, they’re less likely to seek out supportive systems.
“The undocumented population, the LatinX population, has been spoken about in a way that is very abrasive,” Torres said. “So, at times, there are persons who do not want to approach systems of support because they have the fear of being deported.”
The Hispanic Center is trying to change that.
Its leaders are working on solutions that will help close the gap on social disparities.
In the partnership with Kids’ Food Basket, they’re also taking on food inequity.
“The best way for West Michigan to support the LatinX community is through advocacy,” Torres said. “We are really trying to effectively engage in the conversation around what food insecurity is, what food insecurity looks like and the issues that are raised by that.”
With greater access to healthy food, residents are better able to tackle other social inequities.
“Nutritious and healthy food helps with the overall health of a person,” Torres said.
And the Hispanic Center is in it for the long haul.
As long as there’s a need in the LatinX community of West Michigan, the center will work to improve food security.
“We are persons who are walking alongside them as this crisis is happening—an authentic development of trust,” Torres said. “We can feel confident to say that we will be here every day until this is all over.”