The Salvadoran American first launched Knock and Drop Iowa, which delivers food to Latino families. Now she’s making sure they are getting the COVID-19 vaccine too.
When Latinos in Iowa need help, support, and guidance, Zuli Garcia is there. They see her as a loyal force in the state. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Garcia made herself entirely available for whatever they needed, and what they needed was food. A year later, her work with the community isn’t over. Garcia is diligently organizing events to get Latinos vaccinated.
As of May 24, an estimated 43% of Iowans are fully vaccinated, and hundreds of Latinos got their vaccine thanks to Garcia.
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“I know a lot of Latinos are very scared, and they don’t want to get [the COVID-19 vaccine],” Garcia said in an interview with The Americano. “They may think that they are going to get charged, or they fear they are going to send [them] a bill later, and so I think it’s all about being transparent and being honest with them.”
Many are scared of getting asked to show their identification or insurance information, Garcia explained, but she told them, “Yes, they’re going to ask, but if you don’t have it, it’s not a big deal. You’re still going to get the vaccine.”
“I’ve had feedback from several people, and I heard one just recently that said, ‘You know we weren’t going to get it, but we saw Zuli promoting it, and we know she wouldn’t do anything that would put us in harm’s way or would hurt us. That’s why we thought it was safe because we trust her,'” Garcia recalled. “I feel very honored that they feel that way with me.”
That trust between Garcia and the Latino community didn’t happen overnight. Garcia, a Salvadoran American and native of California, moved to Iowa 25 years ago. Garcia is part of the growing Latino community in the state, which increased by 140.7% from 2000 to 2019. With a population currently estimated at 198,550, Latinos are Iowa’s largest community of color and constitute 6.3% of the state’s total population.
In March 2020, Garcia launched Knock and Drop Iowa, an organization based in Des Moines that delivers food to Latino families in need around central Iowa. Knock and Drop leaves food at the front door of about 250 families per week.
This year, as the COVID-19 vaccine began to roll out across the country, Garcia was approached by Latinx Immigrants of Iowa, Hy-Vee (a chain of supermarkets), and individuals from the University of Iowa to help reach the Latino community. Their collaboration moved quickly, and within a couple of days of their first meeting, they had already planned their first vaccination event.
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“We probably vaccinated over 600 people,” Garcia said. “We had a line of folks just standing out there trying to get the vaccine, and it was amazing.”
Garcia didn’t hold back and said this type of work was stressful, but the reward came in seeing Latinos, and now their children, line up to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“As of two weeks ago, we’ve been vaccinating children,” Garcia said. “I had children come on their birthday wanting to get vaccinated, and I thought that was amazing.”
Knock and Drop Iowa will continue to be an active force in the Latino community, Garcia said. The organization first began its work in voter outreach, helping Latinos register to vote.
“We partnered with Latinx Immigrants of Iowa to explain to our community how the electoral system works,” Garcia said. “We will continue to do what is needed to get our community out there and our young folks to get more involved and vote.”
Her next objective is to empower young women to continue their education. But for now, they will aim to increase their vaccination clinics. Knock and Drop Iowa is also working with churches and other organizations to host more vaccination events.
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“What we want to do is use the platform we have so people feel comfortable with us,” Garcia said. “If they feel comfortable with me, that means that if I attend a vaccination clinic to give them that comfort, then I will do it.”
Garcia added, “We can’t stop, and we won’t stop. We need to keep going because ‘¡sí se puede!'”
Their next vaccination clinics will be on:
June 9, June 16, June 30, and July 7, at 4801 Franklin Ave., Des Moines, Iowa, 50310, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.