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"You may have heard the news about COVID-19 from afar; I have seen it in my family."

For the past 10 years, ProsperityME has been celebrating the successes of its services in the spring. This year we expected to do the same thing. Unfortunately, in early January we started hearing news from China about COVID-19. We never expected to be to hit here so hard. Now with nearly 150k deaths nationwide, it is no longer a tale from afar but a local and personal reality. In early March I attended a conference in Mississippi. This was the first week that people started not shaking hands. The airport was starting to slow down. Back home in Westbrook, we had a memorial service for a family member who lost her father back in Rwanda. In attendance were her family members from Seattle. I remember being nervous to even come closer to them thinking that they may have the virus. It was not long after when I heard from my wife's church friend that she had tested positive. She is a single mother with a 17 year-old boy. I sent a message to the local public health office requesting masks so her son could be provided with some protection, but it took two long days to get masks. My wife cooked meals for her and asked me to deliver them. I delivered them along with the masks, dropping them at the door. A week later, I received another call. This time it was my own niece who told me she had tested positive. She was whispering as if this was a secret that she did not want people to know. My wife cooked meals and again I delivered them to her apartment. I remember we communicated from the window because I could not come closer to the house. Later, another niece called me to deliver the scary news that her five day-old daughter and elderly mother had both tested positive. This became a scary, unsettling routine. Every week I hear from people in the community and from my own family. You can hear similar stories from members of the Black, African immigrant, Latinx, and People of Color communities everywhere. Many immigrant community members are “essential workers.” They work in factories, in grocery stores, pharmacies, or as home healthcare aids. Most can’t afford to stay home without pay, and many live in small apartments with their families, making it next to impossible to self-quarantine. The virus spreads rapidly in these spaces. Even though Black people represent only 1.6% of Maine’s population, they represent over 28% of positive COVID-19 cases. When you include all people of color, that number jumps to over 30%. The disparities we have seen in Maine between white and non-white cases are far worse than in any other part of the country. Many Mainers only hear about the pandemic on the news, but Black and immigrant Mainers live the pandemic every day. This is a racial issue that needs to be addressed with resources and education. I am part of a coalition of immigrant community leaders who started meeting back in March to try to mitigate the situation and provide education about the pandemic. Our staff has worked hard to provide people with unemployment assistance, housing support and to advocate for the rights and critical needs of Maines’ Black and POC immigrant community. We appreciate the many philanthropists that cared for our community in this time. Thank you for your support and for your donations to many of our organizations during this critical moment. The racial gap in positive cases has not changed since May, holding steady around 27%. Asylum seekers have not been eligible for federal stimulus money and we are working with state and local partners to find solutions to systemic issues in income, housing, and health care. A gift to ProsperityME will help us to directly help immigrant and POC families impacted by COVID-19 with unemployment, financial assistance, and housing. The needs are still there and we hope that many of our donors will continue to support us. Sincerely and with great thanks,

Claude Rwaganje, Executive Director of ProsperityME

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