While Mauricio Castañeda should be enjoying his retirement, playing golf and spending time with his family, his age has put him at a higher risk for severe illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, he’s been almost completely self-isolated since mid-March, rarely leaving his home. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. That’s because Mauricio plays a critical role for an impressive volunteer food-distribution network that has been providing groceries to much of Dubuque’s Guatemalan population. He is part of the Tri-State VIATS, a volunteer group originally established to help drive recent immigrants to medical appointments, court hearings, and other important meetings. But with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Dubuque, they quickly shifted to
providing culturally appropriate groceries to Guatemalan families, many of whom had lost key sources of income as businesses began to close and cut back on hours. But their work wouldn’t have been possible without Mauricio helping guide their efforts.
Mauricio was born in Guatemala, and first came to the U.S. in 1967. In the 70s he met a girl from Iowa, and followed her back to Dubuque, where he enrolled at Loras College. He and his wife eventually settled in Dubuque in the early 80s, and he has lived here ever since. Mauricio speaks fluent Spanish and English, which has made him an invaluable connection for many of the new Guatemalan immigrants who come to Dubuque. Once the pandemic struck, Mauricio immediately began calling the families he knew, providing them with crucial medical information, translation at the ER, and perhaps most importantly a trusted friend in a very difficult and frightening time. He has since played a critical communication role for the Tri-State VIATS, contacting the more than thirty families about food deliveries, reporting problems and issues, and directing volunteers. For many of these families, the groceries have been their primary source of food during the pandemic. “Right now, people are concerned because they don’t know what the future will be like,” Mauricio says. “It’s hard, but just the way it is.” But even with these challenges, Mauricio remains committed to his work. And even if he can’t leave his own house, he’ll continue to work to make Dubuque a safe and supportive home for everyone who lives here.