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Cundinas, Food Sales, Fundraisers: How Some Latinos Are Trying To Avoid Debt

A street food vendor in MacArthur Park. (Lexis-Olivier Ray for LAist)
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By Areceli Martinez Ortega

When Claudia Badillo began to accumulate debts after she lost her house cleaning job when the pandemic hit, she decided to sell food.

"I invited a friend who is good at cooking and we agreed that she would cook and I would take care of the sales and deliver orders," Badillo said. "We would distribute the profits equally."

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The preparation and sale of Central American food kept Badillo from falling into a spiral of debt. "The first few months before I sold food, my children and my friends were lending me (money) to pay the rent, utility bills, car insurance and tuition at the cosmetology school I attend," Badillo said.

Without a job during the health crisis, many families have turned to credit cards or borrowing from family and friends to pay their bills. Some have turned to online fundraisers or pooled resources. Others have sought to reduce their expenses by asking to make smaller payments on car loans or career-education courses. Badillo says that her cosmetology school lowered her monthly payment from $400 to $250.

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Debt Deferral

A recent congressional report found that the $2 trillion CARES Act economic aid package, along with other debt deferral programs and enhanced unemployment benefits, have helped prevent many consumers from defaulting on their debts. However, as the pandemic drags on, it's not clear what will happen to consumer debt in the future.

Rigoberto Barboza, a former Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient who is now a permanent resident, was forced to close his travel agency, "Navega Travel Tours and Cruises" in La Puente in Los Angeles County.

At the beginning of the pandemic, he worked from home in hopes that the economy would reopen quickly, but as the pandemic spread, he was forced to close. With no income, he dipped into savings and maxed out his credit cards. With a wife and a son, Barboza didn't see a better option but to enlist in the National Guard.

"My training begins in March, but from the first day they are going to start paying me, which will allow me to get ahead with my expenses and pay my debts," he said.

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By December, unemployment among Latinos was even higher than the national average, 9.3% versus 6.7%, according to the most recent report from the organization UnidosUS, formerly the National Council of La Raza.

That's twice the 4% unemployment rate before the pandemic.

Food Sales

Mayra Todd, an activist and leader of Mujeres de Hoy, a Los Angeles organization that helps women victims of domestic violence, says many unemployed immigrants have reached out for money-making ideas in the pandemic.

"My first question was: What can you do," Todd said. "Most of them know how to cook, and I suggest they should plan to start selling food."

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Herhe organization has supported women with equipment, which has allowed them to sell fruit or vegetable juices. Others have started a pastry business selling cupcakes.

Todd also has organized countless fundraising campaigns for unemployed families. "We raise money through the different applications and online sites that exist," she says.

Money Pools

Another way to help the Latino community has been with the organization of raffles and cundinas (money pool). The cundinas, or tandas are a savings system based on trust, very popular in Latin America that are carried out among friends, family, and acquaintances. Each member contributes a certain amount of money each week, and one member receives the pot of savings each round.

"I organized a cundina in which each week we had to save $25," Todd said. "We have 22 people participating, and each week one person was up to receive up to $550."

GoFundMe Donations

Fundraisers on GoFundMe for COVID-19 victims have exploded as well. More and more, people are sharing their struggles after losing a job, a loved one, or encountering an emergency.

"Dying in times of a pandemic is expensive, and affected families have had to resort to all kinds of activities to raise funds for funeral expenses," said Emilio Amaya, director of the San Bernardino Community Services Center. "Every day it is more common to see raffles and food sales to try to raise the necessary funds, and we have also seen how funeral companies increase their costs due to the demand for their services."

Amaya added that it is sad and regrettable to see the lack of official support for immigrants from their governments. "The pandemic has shown us the best and the worst of ourselves, but it is still encouraging to see human solidarity."

GoFundMe reported that in 2020 alone, the platform raised more than $625 million for COVID-19-related needs. As a result, GoFundMe created a category for people to raise money for food, rent and other expenses.

Through a family account, the six children of Brenda López who lost her fight against the virus last summer in Palmdale, have managed to raise $142,758. Juan José Martínez, 19, who overnight became the father and mother of his younger siblings aged 15, 9, 8, 7 and 2, told La Opinion that these donations are for the support of the family.

"I want to save that money for our education expenses in the future," Martínez said.

This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.