Simple information in complicated times

With the help of local nonprofits and grocery store owner Chang So, BenitoLink was able to get important information out in Spanish.
Local grocery store owner, Chang So at Hollister Super market at 211 3rd Street in Hollister. Photo provided.
BenitoLink market flyers were made available around town in Hollister, San Juan Bautista and also post offices around the county. Photo by Leslie David.

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When COVID-19 hit, our little newsroom learned to move faster and help readers keep up with the constant flow of information they needed to stay healthy. We realized we had an important job to do. Somehow, the BenitoLink team doubled its workload even though we were working with a tight budget. BenitoLink is a nonprofit newsroom, and it takes community giving throughout the year for BenitoLink to keep up with this critical reporting.

As COVID-19 took hold in the county, BenitoLink and other nonprofits realized we weren’t reaching all our residents about the risks related to the virus. According to the 2020 census, about 20% of San Benito residents are foreign-born. Many of them speak English, but reading is much easier in one’s native language. 

Talking to BenitoLink board member Chang So, we learned that cultural customs like hugging when close friends greet were putting his grocery store customers at risk. So said that the Spanish-speaking community was responsive, but sharing factual information would likely help reinforce safe habits.

So described what he was seeing in his markets: “I was pleasantly surprised how well our customer base followed the recommendations the county sent out. I would say only about 5% of the people coming into the store didn’t wear masks. We reminded them of the new recommendation and for the most part they were thankful, even a little embarrassed that they forgot. The social distancing was a problem since the employees and customers wanted to continue the hugging and handshaking. Again, we reminded everyone that this should stop for the safety of everyone and it wasn’t a problem anymore.” 

Realizing that public health information may not be reaching everyone due to language barriers, BenitoLink decided to print flyers with COVID safety tips in Spanish. So agreed to help by making them available in his local markets—the two Hollister Super locations and Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista. We printed two flyers and distributed them to markets, post offices, laundromats, liquor and hardware stores—everywhere we could think of.

“Anything is worth a try,” So said. “You never know if it will work or not if you don’t try. The flyers made a lot of sense to me. I don’t know how my customers get their news or if they even have access to local news in Spanish. The flyer was a way of giving our customers the power of knowledge so that they could make their own decision rather than feeling like they are being told what to do.” 

With the help of So’s early encouragement, and support from the Community Foundation for San Benito County, United Way, Youth Alliance and the San Benito Arts Council, we were able to get life-saving information out to this segment of our county population. 

Over the last two years, BenitoLink has never felt so needed and so happy to be of service to our fellow residents. By listening to our local population’s needs, in whatever language it speaks, the BenitoLink team experienced the satisfaction of helping our own community work through an emergency.

“Knowledge is power,” So said. “The more ways BenitoLink can spread unbiased news to our community, just makes the community stronger. A stronger SBC makes for a safer and stronger community.”

Through this experience with the pandemic, we see that fact-based, nonpartisan journalism can save lives. Help us continue to explore new ways of communicating and how to better serve all our residents during emergencies and difficult times. 

Support BenitoLink: nonpartisan, community-based, nonprofit news.


Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.