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Celebration that counts

Youth Alliance distributes 500 burritos in celebration of census efforts.
Youth Alliance Census Celebration Speakers (left to right): Assemblyman Robert Rivas Representative, Dominic Dursa; Youth Alliance Board President, Johnathan Gonzalez; Senator Anna Caballero’s representative, Vanessa Gonzalez; Youth Alliance, Associate Director, Education & Justice, Rigo Jimenez; and Youth Alliance, Deputy Director of Programs, Jose Martinez-Saldana. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Youth Alliance Census Celebration Speakers (left to right): Assemblyman Robert Rivas Representative, Dominic Dursa; Youth Alliance Board President, Johnathan Gonzalez; Senator Anna Caballero’s representative, Vanessa Gonzalez; Youth Alliance, Associate Director, Education & Justice, Rigo Jimenez; and Youth Alliance, Deputy Director of Programs, Jose Martinez-Saldana. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Youth Alliance Associate Director of Learning and Evaluation, Crystal Zamora, made sure each car left with burritos and treats. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Youth Alliance Associate Director of Learning and Evaluation, Crystal Zamora, made sure each car left with burritos and treats. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Burritos, gifts and resources were given to 250 vehicles at the celebration. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Burritos, gifts and resources were given to 250 vehicles at the celebration. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

Youth Alliance rewarded community members for their census efforts by giving away 500 burritos on June 26 at R.O. Hardin Elementary School. Youth Alliance’s Census Drive-Thru Celebration and Resource Fair, held from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., gifted the community with resource bags and free burritos to the first 200 cars in attendance. The event counted 250 vehicles in attendance via the drive-through, as well as walkers who lived in the neighborhood.

With burritos donated by 3 Queens Carnitas and 4th Street Eatery, other local resource centers such as San Benito County Free Library, Mmm Churros!, First Five San Benito, Family Impact Center, San Benito County Integrated Waste Management, and the Community Food Bank of San Benito County participated by handing out free resources and gifts. Also in attendance was the Principal Field Representative of Assemblymember Robert Rivas, Dominic Dursa, as well as Field Representative for Senator Anna Caballero, Vanessa Gonzalez. 

Youth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides culturally and linguistically relevant services and social justice youth leadership development programs, was contracted by San Benito County to lead the effort to count the hard-to-reach communities for the 2020 Census. In partnership with other organizations, such as the Center for Community Advocacy, First 5 San Benito, LULAC, the Rotary Club of San Juan Bautista, United Way of San Benito County, Radio Bilingüe, and BenitoLink, Youth Alliance was able to have 70.8% of San Benito County counted (an increase of 3.3% from 2010).

“That may not seem like a [big increase], but think about the population increase from 10 years ago,” explained Youth Alliance Associate Director of Learning & Evaluation, Crystal Zamora. ”If you just do a simple calculation of about $2,000 per resident, it actually translates to about anywhere from $12 to $17 million that we were able to get for our county.” 

According to a press release by Youth Alliance, having so much of the community counted is a huge win for San Benito County. The census determines how $675 billion will be distributed each year among the US. Having been counted ensures communities get their fair share to fund schools, health care, and transportation services. 

“We haven’t been part of the [census committee] before, but I think the reason why they reached out to us was because of the connections that we already have in the community,” said Youth Alliance Associate Director, Education & Justice, Rigo Jimenez. “There’s a lot of push-back at first, because it’s a government thing. When the previous president was in office, there were a lot of questions about being a citizen. People were scared. So we said, yeah, we’ll help.”

Jimenez said that pre-pandemic, Youth Alliance volunteers and workers went canvassing, door-to-door, visiting migrant camps, leaving door hangers, doing presentations at League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) meetings and at apartment complexes. 

“When you have hard to count populations or areas, social media posts are not going to reach them, and phone messages are not going to reach them,” he noted. 

Once COVID-19 hit, however, Jimenez admitted that it became hard to reach many people.

“San Benito High School really helped us with flyers, handing out flyers to all of the families,” he said. “We ended up printing out lawn signs. It wasn’t the best way to get the message out, but the Hollister School District allowed us to put [the signs] all over the schools.”

Rigo Jimenez wrapped up the event by recognizing the tremendous efforts of the community, staff, volunteers and organizations to make sure “we made ourselves count in the 2020 Census.”

“With an increase of 3.3%, which is about an additional 9,000 more people [than in 2010], and that translates to about $17 million each year for San Benito County each year for the next decade totaling at least $177 million in funding and resources to the County,” Jimenez noted. “This ensures that our community gets its fair share of the $675 billion per year in federal funds to support areas like; healthcare, education and transportation! I know data isn’t the most fascinating thing to talk about, but it’s important to note that we all were able to have 70.8% of San Benito County counted, and that is a great success!”

Dursa applauded the work and cooperation that San Benito County took in reaching as many residents as possible. 

“Deepest thanks to local leaders, community organizations, local residents and everyone who did the hard work necessary to get a complete count for the 2020 Census,” he said. “This work is important because having an accurate count of all the people living in California ensures that we have the resources for vital programs and services [in our communities].”

A Youth Alliance press release encourages the community to be further involved. Though the census ended last year, the community still has a say on how the funds will be spent. It states Youth Alliance feels it is important that the community stays informed about when their city council and school board meetings occur, as well as other discussions involving how funds are distributed among the community.

“Today is a celebration,” Jimenez said. “And we’re trying to bring to the forefront to the community how important it is to get counted and what that results in. They’re not done yet. The idea is that we have extra money coming in, but we want to make sure that we’re advocating for things that we want for the community, in a civil manner and everything—having [those who normally aren’t counted] understand how much power they have. As a people and as a community.” 

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Jenny Mendolla Arbizu

Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She graduated from San Benito High School, and received her BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and her MA in Education from San Jose State University. Jenny has written for the Hollister Freelance, San Benito Magazine and South Valley Magazine. She finds joy in meeting new people in San Benito County and in spotlighting the county’s events and businesses. When not writing, Jenny can be found cuddling with her fur-babies, performing with SBSC, singing with the Hollister VFW, or doing rope climbs at Cold Storage CrossFit.