Courtesy Photo The El Salvador Foundation Resource Fair provided clothing and food baskets in addition to testing for COVID-19 at Winnetka Park.

As Omicron and COVID-19 cases continue to surge, and in anticipation of students returning back to school this week, the El Salvador Foundation held a resource fair at Winnetka Park on Saturday, Jan. 8, with COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and distributed free back-to-school clothing, shoes, toys and food baskets.

The foundation event, held in partnership with LA County Department of Public Health (LACDPH), outreached to Latinos living in the San Fernando Valley.

“At the resource fair, about 600 people were tested and 300 tested positive,” said Dr. Carlos Zaragoza, president and founder of the El Salvador organization.

“Latino communities continue to be hardest hit by the pandemic; they need to get tested and keep [social] distance,” he said. “Oftentimes they don’t have insurance or access to health care, so we also give them medical referrals to clinics and places where they can get care.”

The LACDPH reported on Jan. 5 that Latinos had accounted for 836,834 active COVID-19 cases, which is the highest number among the county’s population.

Carlos Zaragoza, President of the El Salvador Foundation

The El Salvador Foundation was started with the goal of supporting the immigrant community in the San Fernando Valley. It describes itself as a “humanitarian, disaster relief, educational, disease prevention and medical assistance organization dedicated to help alleviate the suffering of children and their families and educate them throughout the United States.”

Zaragoza, a pulmonologist, started the foundation 21 years ago shortly after he arrived in the United States. He left San Salvador, El Salvador, he said, after an attempt was made on his life. He said his efforts to build clinics and recreational areas wasn’t viewed favorably by political factions.

“They tried to kill me, they tried to shoot me, because I was creating libraries, clinics and basketball courts,” Zaragoza said.

In 2000, he became a diplomat and Vice Consul of Community Affairs, Economics and Immigration at the Consulate of El Salvador in Los Angeles and started the El Salvador Foundation in 2001.

Continuing the work he started in El Salvador with others on his team, Zaragoza has created a model — largely powered by volunteers — that sets up numerous resource fairs in various communities.

“Everyone is a volunteer. I’m a volunteer,” Zaragoza said. “As a nonprofit organization, we reach out directly to companies and we are able to do this with their donations and with volunteers.”

The need has grown during the pandemic.

“We’ve distributed about 5 million food baskets. At this event we gave away about 2,000 soccer and basketballs. There are many people including from high schools we work with from all over Los Angeles who volunteer,” he said.

The most important resource for those who attended the weekend event, however, was a location where they could be efficiently tested for COVID-19, receive their results, vaccinations and information for follow up health care.

And with half of those who were tested receiving a positive result, getting resources and instructions to them to quarantine is crucial for their health and others who they could expose to the virus.

The foundation outreaches to the largely Spanish-speaking community through announcements made on Spanish language television.

“Most of the people who attend our resource fairs don’t have health insurance,” Zaragoza said, “so we refer them to clinics and places where they can get help.”

Zaragoza said people who attended the weekend event were grateful.

“They said that not too many people help with this kind of support. They were very happy and said they don’t feel they get it from politicians, and others who are supposed to help.”

Zaragoza is aware that many immigrants work for low wages and not only don’t have the benefit of health insurance, but may also be concerned about their immigration status if they utilize health care facilities. 

 He said he’s also aware that the need for health care is vast and crosses geographical borders.

“We’re based in Winnetka, here in the San Fernando Valley, but we support people from everywhere,” he emphasized.

The foundation has set up community events like the one held last weekend in other states including Texas and Arizona and has worked with FEMA to provide disaster relief by sending containers of medical supplies to other countries.

“I’m starting a clinic in Kenya and Uganda,” Zaragoza said.

“If we serve everyone with love, things will be better, working together to make a better nation. I opened my foundation to support families in need. I believe by working together we will be stronger, everyone deserves first rate health services.”

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