Iowan immigrant advocacy group helps distribute $600 pandemic relief checks

Escucha Mi Voz Iowa, a faith-based, immigrant-led community organization based in Iowa City, helped West Liberty start distributing checks to farmworkers and meatpacking workers.


The Daily Iowan

“Excluded No More,” “Escucha Mi Voz,” “Todo Para Todos,” and more signs are seen in the Johnson County Administration Building on January 24, 2022. About 100 protesters were pushing for funding from the Board of Supervisors Joint Entities Meeting.

Kufre Ituk, News Reporter

Escucha Mi Voz Iowa helped West Liberty become the country’s first city to start distributing $600 pandemic relief checks to farm and meatpacking workers.

On Jan. 2, the Iowa City community organization helped distribute more than $150,000 in $600 direct cash payments to Congolese, Burmese, and Hispanic farm and food workers. This money was part of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program fund.

The program aims to provide $600 to qualifying grocery, farm, and meatpacking workers for expenses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The relief money is qualified as disaster relief and is non-taxable.

The organization’s title translates to “hear my voice” in Spanish and is a non-profit Iowan ministry organization that focuses on empowering working-class, immigrant, and refugee communities through advocacy work on the local and federal levels.

Father Guillermo Trevino Jr., a priest at St. Joseph Parish and St. Joseph Church in Columbus Junction and West Liberty, helped start Escucha Mi Voz during the pandemic. He said he helped create the organization for his parishioners, many of whom worked at food plants in West Liberty and Columbus Junction.

“It was them that wanted this, and it took on a life on its own,” Trevino Jr. said.

Trevino Jr. said organizers preregistered food and meatpacking workers for the relief grant, which helped the City of West Liberty be the first community to receive the money.

Merveille Dimambu is a fourth-year student at Iowa State University and part-time volunteer at Escucha Mi Voz who helped with translation and registration efforts with the organization. She started working with the organization during the 2022-2023 UI academic winter break.

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“There were a lot of Congolese and other Africans who spoke French and Lingala, but mostly from Congo, which is where I’m from. It’s easier to explain the application and translating because I speak Lingala and French,” Dimambu said.

Dimambu was asked to help with translation and registration for Escucha Mi Voz by the Iowa City Catholic Worker House, which works with Escucha Mi Voz.

Escucha Mi Voz also worked with the Ministerial Association of West Liberty, a local group of churches, to help get a utility relief bill for families of West Liberty.

Trevino Jr. said the organization is making progress regarding getting families funding.

“We were able to get $400 [per] 300 families, and so far, we’ve paid about 230 households, and it’s approximately 870 people. Once we reach 300 families, the number will be around 1100,” Trevino Jr. says. “More than 25 percent of the community.”

In the future, the organization plans to continue advocating for immigrants in Iowa.

“We plan to continue helping the community,” Trevino Jr. said. “Especially those who might not know of certain grants and things from the government that are available to them. We’ll continue to inform the community, that’s what we did with this USDA grant.

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