Photos by Kelli Miller
If you haven’t heard of Nuestra Gente Community Projects, Inc. from the organization’s annual Barrio Latino Art Festival or its Spanish-language WVZC radio station, you might know it from the charitable work they do for the Old South End. Linda Parra, the founder and president of Nuestra Gente, is a whirlwind of energy. Parra has taken her media/marketing skills and paired them with an unrelenting drive to serve.
One of Parra’s current priorities is to renovate the First English Lutheran Church (1411 Broadway St.), which the organization purchased in July 2018 as their new base of operations. It’s been the site of major food distributions with the help of the Ohio National Guard and the Northwestern Ohio Food Bank. For perspective on this massive undertaking: their most recent distribution served 729 people in one day. There has been an increased need for this kind of aid since the pandemic began.
“With COVID-19, there is another huge need right now,” Parra says. “I have been planning to do a food pantry since January, so I met with the Food Bank, and we have a membership for food pantry programs. After the success of our Christmas baskets, I’ve found there is a huge need. We need to keep going with this.”
Nuestra Gente does an annual Feliz Navidad food and gift drive, as well as Thanksgiving food baskets. These events are held in the large chapel; it is the small chapel that Parra is raising funds for to make it the location for a weekly 419-Food Pantry Program to feed people in need for up to three days each week.
The church itself was built in 1921 by a group of Lutherans who wanted to run their services in English rather than German (hence the “First English Lutheran Church”). The church also operated a school that had its own chapel, the site for Nuestra Gente’s food pantry.
So far this year, the food distributions have taken place in the church’s large parking lot, but Nuestra Gente needs a warm space for the upcoming winter months if they are going to have these heavily attended events each week.
“We need to repair the roof, walls, floor, bathroom, and to install a new electric heater,” adds Parra. “The small chapel will be the center of activities and distribution to provide weekly food baskets for low-income children, families, the homeless, veterans and seniors.” Nuestra Gente, which means “Our People,” has Spanish speaking volunteers that can help those with limited English in the Hispanic community.
Starting renovations with the smaller chapel for this weekly program makes the most sense financially, since it is a smaller space to heat than the primary building.
How to give back
Parra started a GoFundMe page for the renovations and has received $350 of Nuestra Gente’s $10,000 goal so far. She is hoping the community will see the impact that a weekly program would make for Old South End residents, a group that has a clear need for this kind of assistance and has been hard hit by the pandemic.
“In this pandemic, people have lost their jobs, people have had their hours cut, some people can’t find a job,” says Parra, adding that there is 40 percent unemployment in the 43609 zip code where Nuestra Gente primarily operates. “It’s an area that has also had a lot of addiction problems. You see a lot of homelessness, people with mental health issues, people without transportation. I mean you can tell there is a need. We serve those people.”
If you’d like to help, you can donate here to aid the restoration project for the 419-Food Pantry, or send a check by mail to Nuestra Gente Community Projects, Inc. P.O. Box 140661, Toledo, OH 43614. To inquire about volunteering, contact Linda Parra at firstname.lastname@example.org. nuestragentecommunityprojects.org