[Hpn] Los Angeles, CA - A Triage Team for the Needy At Centro Shalom - Los Angeles Times - Augusta 14, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Thu, 15 Aug 2002 02:03:31 -0500


A Triage Team for the Needy At Centro Shalom
one social worker with a team of volunteers battles hunger,
eviction and immigration quandaries every day

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By LOUIS SAHAGUN, Los Angeles Times - Augusta 14, 2002

Social worker Amelia Nieto's workday begins with a prayer.
Standing in a circle with the small army of volunteers at her
Centro Shalom office in east Long Beach, she asks, "Please grant
us the wisdom to give our people the relief they need."

Then she takes her seat at a cluttered desk, surrounded by
ringing phones, squalling babies and impoverished clients
chattering in Spanish, Chinese, Cambodian and English.

Some come seeking donations of clothing or food. Others arrive
with pressing legal problems: child-custody complaints, eviction
notices, immigration disputes, lawsuits involving traffic
accidents.

Hoping to avoid going into a foster care program, a young girl
and her sister whose mother is dying have asked for help in
finding a new home. 

Residents of a housing project are pleading for assistance
in ridding their units of gang members.

Nibbling on tortilla chips while studying the fine print of a
client's disputed rental contract, Nieto said, "Our clients were
dealt lousy hands in life but can't afford lawyers.

"We're not attorneys," she said. "But we help them with their
basic needs and to fill out forms and to connect them with the
right people, offices and agencies."

Some would call that an understatement.

Each day, the 25-year-old agency founded by her mother, Olivia
Herrera, feeds 165 people, hands out 200 pieces of clothing and
assists at least a dozen clients with legal problems. It also
sponsors a variety of neighboring programs, including a
self-esteem class for women.

A year ago, when local utility rates soared so high that some
residents began forsaking their gas stoves, washing machines and
daily showers, Centro Shalom started loaning out microwaves
because cooking with the electrical appliances was cheaper than
using gas stoves.

All this, with 40 committed volunteers, including Nieto's
88-year-old grandmother, Trini Alvillar, and a daily cash
expenditure of about $95.

By 3 p.m. one Friday, the line of people waiting to see Nieto and
her assistants still stretched out the door and onto the sidewalk
fronting bustling Anaheim Street.

Surveying the afternoon workload, Nieto just smiled and said, "I
love my job. I'm where I'm supposed to be."

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