Diaspora United in Response to COVID-19

Staff at the Rian Immigrant Centre, Boston
Staff at the Rian Immigrant Centre, Boston

The Irish community spirit shone brightly during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Diaspora had a crucial role to play in the provision of localised responses in the United States. In Boston, Massachusetts, the Rian Immigrant Center worked in collaboration with the Irish Pastoral Center in Boston to ensure a broad outreach across the Commonwealth.

Peggy Davis-Mullen is Executive Director of The Irish Pastoral Centre in Boston and she says the centre is actively helping the most vulnerable people with a connection to Ireland in any way it can: “We have been lucky to receive COVID-19 funding which has enabled us to create and develop new programs to deal with what is happening on the ground in Boston. Our priorities have been ensuring that our community is safe and we have managed to keep our counselling and emigration/legal clinic open, dealing with people mostly over the phone providing them with an attentive ear and necessary information.”

Once a week, representatives from the Irish Pastoral Centre call in to visit elders in the community to keep in touch with them while they are cocooning. The centre also offers help with delivering shopping and picking up meals and prescriptions. To ensure people have food on the table, they ran a shopping voucher program to give those most in need food vouchers to the main superstores in the Boston area.

“We have done our best to make people aware of our rental assistance program” Peggy added. “This has been essential and our interaction with landlords and tenants has been incredibly well received. We have given out over $75,000 since March in rental assistance keeping many families and undocumented in housing. We also called for a supply drive and the Irish community really got behind us donating things like nappies, laundry detergents, shampoos etc. to help families most in need not have to pay for expensive essentials. Each of these programs have been of great benefit to the Irish community and we are receiving feedback from many, who are beginning to get back on their feet. Over the past few months, we have met many new faces and were delighted to do our bit to support the most vulnerable in our community during this really difficult time”. Peggy said.

The Rian Immigrant Center (formerly the Irish International Immigrant Center) continued to carry out its work during Covid-19 of empowering immigrant families on the path to opportunity – including supporting hundreds of Irish J-1 students who were in the US. Over the past few months, the center’s immigration attorneys, social workers and teachers made the transition to working remotely and increased support for vulnerable Irish immigrant families and J-1 students. 

Many in the Irish community are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits, or federal relief, and required immediate support for basic needs such as rent, groceries, food, pharmacy products, diapers, utilities, hygiene products, and childcare. Ronnie Millar is Executive Director of the center and he says the families they work with have been immensely grateful for the emergency relief funds: “Shortly after St. Patrick’s Day, Rian took a lead role in founding the Massachusetts Immigrant Collaborative, a multicultural group of 13 immigrant support organizations to raise emergency relief funds and to provide direct relief to immigrant families who are in most need. Since then, the Collaborative has supported over 20,000 immigrants with cash and food assistance. We are also very grateful to the Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs Emigrant Support Programme for assisting Irish immigrants in the United States, and to our many Irish-American friends – many of whom hail from Donegal – who are supporting us through this crisis.”

The centre has expanded its resource network of housing/shelter options, tenant rights, unemployment assistance, food pantries, hot meals, and financial support. Immigration attorneys continue to represent immigrants and help find a pathway to status and safety, and the center’s social workers provide emergency social services, counselling, case management, and emotional support via phone and video using Telemedicine services.

Ronnie says the center was disappointed that the J-1Visa program was indefinitely suspended, but remains hopeful that it will restart one day soon: “When the pandemic broke, Rian helped many J-1 students return to Ireland, and we are still supporting over 260 who remain here in the US.  Even in the middle of the pandemic, 25 young Irish men and women were still able to successfully secure paid internships. This speaks volumes to the resilience, creativity and courage of these young Irish men and women to find a way forward to follow their dreams. Together, with the support of our funders and friends, we are making sure the Irish immigrant community stays strong and makes it through this pandemic.” he added.