The following Letter to the Editor was written by Adriana Gomez Schellhaas, executive director of Casa Chirilagua, a Christian nonprofit in the Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood that provides help for local low-income families.
“When will we go back to normal?”
Like me, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question since this crisis started.
What was normal to you, pre-pandemic? For me, normal was spending time with friends and happily not social distancing, going to work without having to wear a mask and being able to work for eight+ hours a day because my toddler twins were spending the day with our lovely babysitter.
Before COVID-19, normal for many of our neighbors in Chirilagua was spending any free time working a second or third job to ensure bills were paid and food was on the table. Normal for many others was an accustomed reality of food insecurity, joblessness, and lack of medical care. The normalcy of the economic disparities that exist in this vibrant community where we, Casa Chirilagua, have spent the last 13 years building long-term relationships with neighbors has caused it to be one of the hardest hit areas of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia.
Since COVID-19, normal has turned upside down for Casa Chirilagua and our neighborhood. The squeals and excitement of our Kids Club students during the afternoons have been replaced by a donation pantry bursting at the seams with vital food and essential items for Casa families, thanks to the outpour of generosity from city residents and folks all the way from Rockville, Maryland.
Our parking lot is not filled with cars of dedicated volunteers coming to spend time to read and tutor students, but has been turned into a COVID-19 testing site thanks to our wonderful partnership with Neighborhood Health.
Our regular fundraising pattern for this time of year isn’t the normal lull we experience after Spring2ACTion but has changed drastically as we continue to see donation after donation from kind individuals, church partners, and organizations like the Del Ray Business Association and Hume Springs Civic Association, all wanting to support the mission of Casa Chirilagua and make sure Casa families have the necessary resources to survive this pandemic.
This is not normal. But what if it was?
What if this outpouring of generosity lasted all year round, year after year, ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors in Arlandria have what they need? What if vital health screenings were readily available week after week to neighbors who could not afford them or do not have access to a doctor?
What would it look like to truly love our neighbor as ourselves?
This crisis has caused the “normal” negative issues which plague our community to rear their ugly heads even more. However, it has also resulted in generosity, camaraderie and empathy to shine ever so brightly. Business owner Jason Yates sent us a donation of 100 handmade masks. Sheriff Lawhorne and his deputies did not hesitate for one second when I asked for their assistance in directing traffic during our donation hours. City residents like Marcia Call organized her own donation drive, delivering to us the biggest haul of donations we have seen to date.
There are countless others, like Rosa Landeros, the parent liaison at Mount Vernon Community School, who said to me, “Anything this community needs, please call me.”
The ways that many in our city have loved our neighbors in Chirilagua during this crisis is emotionally overwhelming for me in a beautiful way. When this is over, my prayer is that these gestures of love and kindness will not cease but increase, making it the new normal for us and our city.
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Staff photo by James Cullum