“No, Rufino Fuentes and I are not related,” remarks Sociology PhD student and Co-President of the Graduate Student Forum, Genesis Fuentes. “It's funny, there are multiple families in my church with the last name Fuentes but none of us are related; many of us are actually not even from the same country, just from Latin America.” The ties between the Fuentes’ – Rufino and Genesis – and other members of the Iglesia Bautista de Washington congregation transcend familial or even national boundaries, and animate a network that helps feed hundreds of hungry families each week. “We are reaching communities that we didn’t even know existed,” marvels Genesis.
Under a partnership spearheaded by Rufino, the church works with the USDA to hand out hundreds of boxes of groceries, including bottles of milk and fresh fruits and vegetables. On Saturdays, distribution occurs at the church’s Gaithersburg sanctuary, where lines of cars have already formed by the time food starts being loaded into vehicles at 8am. On Tuesdays, Rufino distributes food from his home in Silver Spring, assisted by Genesis and other volunteers. For those unable to make the trek to either location, Genesis brings boxes of food back to her family’s laundromat in Takoma Park, forming yet another branch in a network that serves a growing need. “My experience with the program has been beyond rewarding,” shares Genesis.
In addition to being personally fulfilling, her experiences have allowed Genesis to directly engage her training as a sociologist. “We’re taught to look at everything through a sociological lens,” Genesis notes. “Being a part of this program has shown me so much about how networks operate within the Latinx community.” While interest in the food distribution was initially limited, she was amazed by how quickly news spread by word of mouth. “We had a huge surge of Brazilian and Portuguese-speaking people come to pick up food. One person told someone else, and the rest was the network at work.”
“There are times when one person will come and pick up food for their family, but have another person in their backseat who also needs food for their family. One car may have food for two different families with five people in each family; that’s ten people who benefit from one car coming to pick up food. Every Saturday we ask if people are ‘new’ or if they have come before and we get over fifty ‘new’ people every week.”
Demand for the program continues to grow, as word flickers through vibrant Latinx and immigrant networks. “We’re never worried about food being left over, but are worried about not having enough. The pandemic has been devastating for so many families,” Genesis observes. “Many have lost employment, or have family members who are essential workers and risk their health on a daily basis.”
Genesis encourages anyone who is in need of food, or who knows someone who is, to contact her at gfuente1 [at] umd.edu.
Story from mymcmedia (Spanish)
Story from WJLA (English)