Latino community and beyond rallies to support victims, families of Baltimore Key Bridge collapse – Chicago Tribune

Like many others in Baltimore, Susana Barrios awoke early Tuesday morning to a flood of messages asking if she was okay. She soon learned that the Francis Scott Key Bridge had collapsed into the Patapsco River. As with all tragedies, Barrios, vice president of the Latino Racial Justice Circle, started to wonder if members of her community were affected. 

As the news developed over the course of that day, her thought crystallized into fact: six construction workers who were filling potholes during a night shift on the bridge have been presumed dead since Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday, divers found the bodies of two of those men. All six men, plus one construction worker who survived, were Latino, originally from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico

“Once we heard that there were workers on the bridge, and they were missing, we were like, I mean, we assumed that it was gonna be Latinos,” Barrios said. “When they realized there was people working there and those were the people who were missing, that’s when we went to ‘How can we help?’ mode.” 

Barrios said that for Latinos, and Latino immigrants in particular, there could be a slew of obstacles to figure out in the wake of a tragedy. For instance, survivors may not have health insurance, though earlier this month, the Maryland Senate passed legislation that would allow undocumented residents to apply to purchase health insurance through the state. Additionally, survivors and family members may face language barriers while attempting to get help and consulates may need to be contacted. 

The Latino Racial Justice Circle, which states its mission is to help “eliminate systemic racial injustice and everyday incidents of bias and discrimination towards the Latino community,” took action Wednesday morning by launching a GoFundMe to support the families of the six bridge collapse victims. 

Originally, the organization hoped to raise $18,000 to distribute $3,000 to each family. By the time donations were halted early Wednesday evening, the page had raised over $98,000 — over $16,000 per family and over five times the original goal. 

“Sometimes we have a hard time raising $10,000 in ten months, so we never expected that much,” Barrios said after a Thursday morning prayer vigil at the Patterson Park Observatory. “But we are so grateful.”

The Latino Racial Justice Circle, which Barrios described as small and volunteer-run, decided to hand fundraising efforts off to the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs based on the rapid escalation in donations over less than 12 hours. That office is partnering with the Baltimore Civic Fund, which works with city agencies to administer philanthropic funds. 

Baltimore Civic Fund Director of Partnerships Rachel Donegan said between 4 p.m. Wednesday and just before noon Thursday, that a new fundraiser had collected nearly $94,000, with the smallest donation at $1 and the largest at $2,500. 

Donegan said the fundraiser “absolutely does not compare” with previous ones she’s helped run. 

“The response has been incredibly quick, incredibly immediate. I think it speaks to the importance of the story, the way that Baltimore City residents and our regional members want to help this set of families,” Donegan said. “We’re just very honored to be able to provide some small measure of support inside that larger chain of support.” 

Donegan said she’s been flooded with emails from churches, businesses and other organizations looking to donate or match contributions with funds that could eventually go towards things like funeral costs, medical expenses or day-to-day needs. 

One thing families have already expressed they’ll need help paying for is transporting their loved ones’ bodies back to their home countries once they’ve been recovered from the water, said CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres. CASA, which seeks to improve the lives of immigrants and other people of marginalized identities, is encouraging members to donate to the city’s fundraiser to directly help families. Torres said CASA has been working with two of those families because the victims were CASA members: Maynor Suazo Sandoval and Miguel Luna. 

Torres said that CASA identified those two men by conducting wellness checks for all CASA members living in South Baltimore following the bridge collapse because “we know that it’s our community.” 

“We know where our community works … they are essential workers, they are people who work in all of these very difficult and dangerous jobs,” Torres said. “We are very honored and very pleased that Miguel and Maynor and the rest of these families are building bridges to connect communities, are building bridges [and] not walls to divide them, and today and always we will honor them and their sacrifices.” 

The Latino Racial Justice Circle will handle distributing the original influx of donations by partnering with city and county-run immigrant services, Barrios said; representatives from both offices were unavailable for comment Thursday. 

Barrios said her organization is not in direct contact with families but the governmental offices are. She said the families gave permission for the GoFundMe and the plan is to divide up the donations amongst the six families and give checks to each victims’ next of kin once GoFundMe releases the money. 

Barrios said organizations like hers can put responses together quickly because “this is what we do every day.” 

“We definitely know that everybody is going to need financial assistance. Those were their breadwinners, they had children, they are going to need money,” she said. “It’s hard but it’s also reassuring because we come together, right, we come together and we feel, we see how the community — not just the Latino community, the community in the neighborhoods, Baltimore as a whole, Maryland; we all come together.” 

Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contributed to this story.

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