Latino Service Providers provide masks, resources to residents amid coronavirus pandemic

The nonprofit Latino Service Providers have stepped into the role of face-mask distribution during the pandemic, thanks to donations from partners in the community.|

Since 1989, the mission of the Latino Service Providers has been to reduce disparities in health, education and economic well-being for Sonoma County’s Latino communities.

But after the recent fires and now the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit networking organization has pivoted, emphasizing physical and mental health during times of crisis.

“Our focus has been evolving, especially here in Sonoma County, where we face many challenges,” said Guadalupe Navarro, LSP executive director for the past two years. “We went through the Tubbs fire, and we went through the Kincade, and just a few months later … this. So our community has had a lot of stress and pressure.”

Based in Santa Rosa with a “small but mighty” staff of five people, LSP puts out an e-newsletter, Que Pasa?, in English and Spanish, each week. Its 1,800 members include mostly professionals and other community members.

“Because we have a strong emphasis on health and mental health, we do a lot of promotion of events with local nonprofits,” said Navarro, who previously worked for the Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, her alma mater. “The focus of the newsletter now is more on COVID-19 resources. We talk about valid resources, with links for more information.”

For example, a recent newsletter included trusted resources on how to make your own face mask, protocol for COVID-19 testing, guidelines on preventing infections for agricultural workers and mortgage relief options, plus resources for childcare, senior programs and job openings, among other information.

The nonprofit also has stepped into the role of face-mask distribution, thanks to donations from partners in the community such as North Bay Sewers Unite.

“Our first distribution was on April 17 in Roseland,” Navarro said. “That day, we distributed a total of 150 masks - all handmade, cotton masks, which are washable - and the masks were gone in 15 minutes.”

Now that more masks have been donated to them, LSP has started distributing the protective gear outside their office on Center Drive in northern Santa Rosa.

Navarro also has been collaborating with the local nonprofit Latinos Unidos to make sure older former farmworkers are informed about the pandemic and to help current farmworkers who may need masks.

“Today, someone reached out to us via Facebook and said ‘I need 150 masks for the farmworkers,’” she said. “Then we reached out to Latinos Unidos, who had masks for farmworkers, and we became a distribution center.”

In the mental health arena, the nonprofit collaborates with the local nonprofit Humanidad, which provides therapy and group therapy for Spanish-speaking communities.

“One of their staff members is creating videos on how to cope with anxiety,” she said.

“There’s a lot of stigma around mental health, particularly in the Latino community,” Navarro said. “We’re not quick to identify depression ... and we don’t know how to define or explain it.”

With the help of 38 students ages 16 to 25 who serve as Youth Promotores - community health workers and mental health ambassadors - LSP also has been doing its own outreach on mental health.

“The Youth Promotores include students from Healdsburg all the way to Petaluma, from high schools, the SRJC and SSU,” Navarro said. “It is a one-year internship for our students, and LSP provides them with a stipend for their work.”

The Youth Promotores were of service at the Petaluma shelter during the Kincade fires and created videos to show the Latino community how to prepare an emergency kit and how to pack for an evacuation.

Funded by a grant from the Red Cross as well as a grant from the Office of Health Equity, the Youth Promotores have started making their own videos, including one on self-care during the pandemic.

Navarro said the outreach program has been successful because the youth are already connected to their community and are reaching out in familiar spaces, where they are known and trusted.

“We are not walking in as strangers,” she said. “We are walking in as an organization that has already earned trust, to talk about a sensitive subject.”

Although obviously not trained as therapists, the youth mental health ambassadors train the community to be aware of symptoms they may be experiencing and share resources where they can get help.

“It’s about learning to put a name to the feelings we have, and that it is as important to care for our mental health as it is for our body,” Navarro said. “In Sonoma County, I think we are all experiencing some form of anxiety, because this is not our first community challenge.”

Another goal of the Youth Promotores program is to help young people to become familiar with the different career opportunities in Sonoma County.

“It’s our hope to diversity our future work force,” Navarro said.

The nonprofit LSP emphasizes resources that are bilingual and require all Promotores to speak both English and Spanish.

“This year we have a student from Cali Calmecac (a bilingual elementary school in Windsor),” she said. “She’s not Latina, but she speaks fluently.”

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

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