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Carnaval this year is about community and survival

Carnaval this year is about community and survival

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It’s a blistering day. The asphalt is hot, yet the dancers and vendors are out. The lines for free groceries from the Mission Food Hub are long, but COVID-19 testing is available as well as vendors offering jobs, education, free internet access, clothing, census registration and free dancing performances.

Attendance for San Francisco’s 2020 Carnaval on Sept. 5 and 6 was unexpectedly low overall—only 394 people showed up for groceries for both Saturday and Sunday.  


“I knew in December 2019 that the virus was going to hit this year and recommended to our organization to postpone the Carnaval until Labor Day weekend,” said Roberto Y. Hernandez, lead organizer of Carnaval San Francisco, the slogan this year being Salud es Poder —Health is Power. “I never imagined that the virus would have spiked up as it did.”

But when the pandemic hit San Francisco and the shelter-in-place orders went into effect, Hernandez asked a woman who had called asking for help, what her needs were. 

“There’s seven of us and only one day’s food,” the woman told Hernandez. “That was the beginning,” he said.  

Hernandez initially opened up his garage and packed it with 50-pound bags of rice, beans, and oatmeal. The operation was “strictly unsustainable.”  

Carnaval sponsors quickly went into action, providing over 40 pallets of food, but Hernandez’s garage was no longer big enough to house the food.

The owner of 701 Alabama Street, Mission Language and Vocational School, gave Hernandez the keys to use the site for food distribution.

“On Cinco de Mayo, we provided over 500 families food,” Hernandez said. 

Now, Hernandez is activating the hub three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) is servicing over 7,000 families with culturally appropriate food.  The weekend of the event they gave away watermelons and ingredients to make menudo. 

“Our local state government has not met our needs,” Hernandez said. “Hub is listening. We created Carnaval … to heal and have the community recover from this virus. Carnaval is giving people hope.” 

Upon getting one’s temperature checked—assuring one is masked—Carnaval goers were directed toward the COVID-19 testing area. Most people however headed straight for the grocery line with their carts in tow, wrapping around the block up to the entrance of 701 Alabama Street, which bustled with activity.  

Hernandez shared a story of a man who had been picking up groceries from the hub who cried when he had gotten hired at the Carnaval job fair. 

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“I asked him why he was crying,” Hernandez said. “He told me he had five children and no funds since May 1 and was drowning everyday feeling worse that he could not pay the rent and support his family and the groceries he was being provided was his only lifeline.”

Hernandez added that “several people” signed up for health coverage through the City.

One of the tables at the fair was the City Arts and Tech High School, manned by principal Phillip Chardon and three students, where students pick a place to intern and learn skills not only to graduate from high school, but to contribute to their community.

Barbary Coast Cannabis Dispensary and Delivery, located and 5th and Mission streets,  was looking for budtenders. “Business is good,” said Bianca Starr Gutierrez.  “Sales are up.”

Jan Evans of security firm Allied Universal, said, “We’re always hiring. We don’t discriminate. We have all types of jobs ready and we are supportive of the community in San Francisco.”

Another table belonged to the Code Enforcement Outreach Program, which advocates for tenants’ rights and gave out leaflets.

“I am grateful to all the community partners, sponsors, the City of San Francisco and the volunteers who believed in our vision to be present in this time, out on the streets to serve and love our community,” Hernandez said. “We learned a lot from the weekend from people living in this crisis and definitely the need exists to bring services directly to the people in our community.” 

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