Pasadena Community Foundation was recently gifted a priceless piece of artwork in recognition of the Foundation’s early support of the “Mano a Mano” program at Pasadena’s National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and its affiliate organization, the Pasadena Community Job Center. The artwork honors a year of community partnerships and shared solidarity.
Artist and NDLON member Ramiro Vega presented his artwork to PCF President and CEO Jennifer DeVoll during the one-year anniversary celebration of Mano a Mano, a food distribution program that began in May, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, the skilled day laborers of the Job Center were facing public health and unemployment crises, and Mano a Mano was created to address the immediate needs of the laborers and their families. Addressing food insecurity is the primary goal of the program, but it also assists clients with rental assistance and COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
Mano a Mano, which means “hand in hand” in Spanish, was made possible with funding from Pasadena Community Foundation and partnerships with faith-based communities and the LA Regional Food Bank. Program Manager Nancy Torres points out that for the staff at NDLON, the concept of “Mano a Mano” is an important one because it emphasizes shared solidarity and minimizes the idea of charity. Torres notes, “Families are receiving assistance not because they cannot care for themselves but because they are experiencing a moment of difficulty due to the pandemic. We share what we have and work together to help keep our extended family healthy.”
Artwork Honors the Nourishment of a Community
For the anniversary celebration, Ramiro Vega was asked to create two artworks: one for PCF and one for another integral program partner, Pasadena Covenant Church. Vega, a native of Mexico City, is a self-taught artist who loves to create art to relax. With artistry that calls to mind the intricate designs of Tournament of Roses Parade floats, Ramiro’s creation uses seeds, fibers, and grains to showcase the logo of Mano a Mano and the spirit of solidarity that underpins the program’s daily work. “I like to work with seeds and natural things, but I also work with paint and wood. The art I created for Mano for Mano was very specific because I wanted to find something to represent the important work of this program. For me, the basket and foods represent the nutritious food that NDLON gives to me and the people.”
Vega created the over the course of a month, working carefully to meet his high standards. “I am a detail-oriented person (in) work and art. When I am on a job, I take pride in a high level of attention and detail in my work. When I come home and create art, I also take pride in providing a high level of attention to detail. I could only work in small time spans to ensure it was well done.”
As a member of NDLON for 22 years, Vega saw the artwork as one way he could give back to an organization that has allowed him to provide for his family of four and has protected his dignity and rights as a day laborer. “More than anything, NDLON has helped me find work. Thanks to this place, I have an opportunity to move ahead. Through this work, I am able to take care of my basic needs and those of my family. The Job Center protects us. There is a high level of confidence from those hiring workers that the workers will be reliable, and at the same time, we are protected because the Job Center ensures we are registered and paid fairly.”
As Need Increases, Lend Your Hand in Support
According to Program Manager Nancy Torres, since May of 2020, Mano a Mano has helped 7,500 families with food baskets with onsite, drive-thru distributions and home deliveries. And although businesses are re-opening and vaccinations are available, Torres says the need continues to increase at NDLON: 20 additional families signed up for food support in June, and 27 families did so in May.
The program is also in desperate need for better transportation. “We use 200 hours of volunteer labor with every food distribution – those are volunteers using their own vehicles. I sometimes do not have enough funds to pay for their gas. We really need our own transportation, and have launched a campaign to raise $50,000 to purchase a van to help us with our food deliveries.”
Pasadena-area residents can help Mano a Mano continue its work in two ways:
- Help NDLON raise funds to purchase a van with a donation.
- Visit Grocery Outlet in South Pasadena to participate in the Independence from Hunger Campaign, which runs through July and supports Mano a Mano. 1401 Huntington Dr, South Pasadena, CA 91030.