Arlington woman coordinates help for immigrants struggling during pandemic

Originally from El Salvador, the single mother of four has lived in Arlington, Virginia, for more than a decade.

Mariflor Ventura is the kind of woman who can’t help but try to help other people.

Originally from El Salvador, the single mother of four has lived in Arlington, Virginia, for more than a decade. It’s not just her home; it’s her community, and the one thing the pandemic has proven to her is that people in her community have been suffering.

There’s a lot of things Ventura can’t fix, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to help.

Every week dozens, and sometimes more than a hundred people gather in front of her apartment, where she’s able to help provide food baskets to other immigrants struggling to make ends meet.

“They line up right here in this corner,” she said gesturing at a spot not far from the front door of her apartment building. “The vans park over here, we open the vans and other people from the church … come and help.”

The food assistance, provided in part by her church, Iglesia Nueva Vida D.C., is only one way she’s able to provide help to those who may have trouble accessing it, if they even know where to turn.

During an interview, her phone was constantly ringing with messages. She said it sometimes feels like it never slows down.

“They think I’m going to be there 24 hours for them and I can’t,” Ventura said. “I’ve got to work. I’ve got to take care of my twins.”

But she also understands why her phone goes off as often as it does.

“They have different schedules, and sometimes I feel bad because they work night times from 10 ’til seven in the morning,” she said.

In recent months, she has also worked to provide other supplies that struggling families need, beyond food to eat, and she’s making herself more available to them beyond the lunchtime hours.

“Anything the community needs since COVID-19 starts,” Ventura explained.

Since the holiday season, she has become the point-person for more than 100 families struggling to get by.

“I give them height chairs, toys for the kids, clothes” for kids and adults, she said.

Even construction boots.

They might be little things, but for families struggling on shoestring budgets, it can make a tremendous difference.

“It will help at least to save a little bit of money to pay the phone bill or pay for the rent,” Ventura said. “That’s the most important thing for them. Pay the rent.”

Her operation has expanded beyond just searching for people giving things away and offering items up on local Facebook pages, though she still utilizes it. She also has an Amazon Wish List to help locate items of specific need for the families counting on her, as well as the food staples to help families get through the week.

As word of her work has started to spread, deliveries of Amazon boxes have started to come more frequently, and they’re starting to fill up her one-bedroom apartment.

When word got out that she was thinking about trying to find a bigger apartment, her neighbors began pleading with her to change her mind.

“She said, ‘Oh no Mariflor, please don’t leave,'” Ventura said. “Tell me what we’re going to do without you.”

It convinced her to stay, and made her think deeper about how she can help.

Right now Ventura is balancing helping others with her job as a bus attendant with Arlington County Schools. But she also feels called to do more.

“I would like to have a nonprofit organization to help more of the community, not only with the food but with education,” Ventura said.

In particular, she wants to help immigrant mothers in the area who struggle with literacy. “They don’t even know how to write or read in Spanish.”

The organization she’s dreaming of would also help with employment and immigration issues. To make that happen, she needs to find office space and storage space for the donations — all issues she’s trying to solve, while still handling the more immediate day-to-day needs she’s trying to help meet for people.

“Any help would be welcome,” Ventura said. “It’s not about only food. It’s about other things they need.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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