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Local activists come to aid of Oak View neighborhood during pandemic

Oak View activists
Laura Lavin and Victor Valladares are activists who help the low-income Oak View community in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

In the predominately Latino Oak View community in Huntington Beach, grassroots groups are lighting the way through the pandemic for struggling residents.

As many in the low-income neighborhood wrestle with joblessness, potential illness and an uncertain future in the post-pandemic economy, groups like Oak View ComUNIDAD and Mujeres de Oak View ComUnidad are stepping up.

“There are no resources available other than our grassroots organizations bringing in resources to the community,” said Victor Valladares, who co-founded Oak View ComUNIDAD. “We are the ones on the frontlines.”

Valladares, largely seen as the chief advocate for the underserved Huntington Beach neighborhood, has been bringing food and other resources into the community during the crisis.

In mid-April, Valladares said he worked with the Orange County Food Bank to bring food distribution to the neighborhood. Residents flocked to pick up much-needed supplies outside Valladares’ home. He said he hopes to work with the food bank regularly.

Last week, Valladares raised $2,400 through a Facebook fundraiser to purchase fresh produce for Oak View residents. Valladares is hoping he can set up weekly food drives.

“We are going to set up on the street corner,” Valladares said. “It’s really needed.”

Laura Lavin, who leads the group, Mujeres de Oak View ComUnidad, advocates for the women of the Oak View community.

“There isn’t much panic health-wise,” Lavin said. “Financial-wise is a totally different story.”

Oak View activists
Laura Lavin leads Mujeres de Oak View ComUnidad, and Victor Valladares co-founded Oak View ComUNIDAD.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Valladares said many residents haven’t been able to pay or are behind on their rent. Some have moved in with others, living “doubled-up.”

“People were already living paycheck to paycheck,” Valladares said.

With much confusion in the community about what state orders like the eviction moratorium and stay-at-home orders mean, much of the work for the activists has been to provide guidance to the community.

Lavin has been holding webinars to educate residents on how to talk to their property owners about rent issues.

“There was much confusion about the state orders and what power they have,” Lavin said.

Lavin and Valladares also connect residents with legal counseling. Valladares said he’s working with The Vazquez Group, a Santa Ana-based firm.

“Folks who don’t know their rights are getting threatened to get kicked out of the neighborhood,” Valladares said.

It’s unclear if anybody in the community has tested positive for the virus.

Huntington Beach spokesman Eric McCoy said the city doesn’t have data on coronavirus cases in Oak View. The OC Health Care Agency doesn’t have a breakdown of cases by neighborhood.

Valladares said it’s likely that the community is at high risk. Many residents who haven’t been laid off have jobs that require them to go into work, Valladares said, pointing out that many work at local nursing homes. This week, a Huntington Beach nursing home recorded its sixth COVID-19-related death.

Jadira Lopez, who’s lived in the neighborhood since she was a child, has been providing Zumba fitness classes online with the Zoom video conferencing application. Lopez had been providing the classes at a park in the neighborhood before the statewide stay-at-home order. The classes had become a community fixture, where many could connect with each other while getting their daily dose of exercise.

Lopez said she started the online classes to keep the community connected and make sure that Oak View residents maintain their mental and physical health.

“I’ve come across a lot of the families, and many of them, at least one, either the mother or father, have been laid off or reduced hours,” Lopez said. “I know with the kids being home and the parents being laid off, it has taken a toll financially.

“Being physically active is an important aspect of maintaining your mental health. People are stressing, and this brings a little bit of happiness.”

Lopez was laid off from her job as an instructional assistant in the Ocean View School District, but she is still providing the classes for free. She charged a small fee prior to the pandemic. Lopez regularly goes to a nearby campus to get school lunches that are provided by the school district for her three children.

“I do it for free and don’t ask for donations,” Lopez said. “We just want to keep them active. I know everybody is struggling.”

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