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As coronavirus hits hardest in communities of color, leaders speak out

Their message came through Thursday in Clearwater as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist visited Hispanic-owned businesses and spoke with Black community leaders.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist arrives at Clearwater's 5 de Mayo Bakery, where Alejandra Macias, 36, showed him around Thursday as part of a tour to deliver masks and hear how the pandemic is affecting residents' health and financial security.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist arrives at Clearwater's 5 de Mayo Bakery, where Alejandra Macias, 36, showed him around Thursday as part of a tour to deliver masks and hear how the pandemic is affecting residents' health and financial security. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Sep. 10, 2020|Updated Sep. 10, 2020

CLEARWATER — When the pandemic hit, Maria Hernandez lost her income.

For a single mom with two kids, that meant leaning on friends to bring meals for her family and picking up what she could from a local food bank.

Now back to work at the register of Mexico Lindo Supermarket, slow business means limited hours. And limited hours mean the pay is little.

“It’s hard for me,” said Hernandez. The pandemic has made it hard for the Hispanic community, she added, particularly those in the service industry.

As months pass, data shows communities of color bear a disproportionate amount of the burden.

Yet for some Hispanic-owned businesses, customer support through the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak kept them afloat when business dwindled.

“We’re very blessed," said Elizabeth Soria, the owner of Tequila’s Mexican Grille and Cantina, which opened last October at 422 Cleveland St. in downtown. The restaurant leaned on take-out orders in the early months of the outbreak and was able to retain all its employees.

Around the corner, business for 5 de Mayo Bakery is just getting back to normal, said 36-year-old Alejandra Macias, who is married to the owner’s son, Libni Montero, 41. Business slowed at first but loyal customers kept money flowing. Piles of fresh-baked bread, rows of colorful cakes, and the sweet smell of sugar kept customers flowing in and out of the family-owned bakery, which has been around for 15 years.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist stopped at these Hispanic-owned businesses and also met with Black community leaders Thursday as part of a COVID-19 Response Tour around Clearwater to deliver masks and hear how the pandemic is affecting residents' health and financial security.

At the North Greenwood Recreation Center, Black community leaders Muhammad Abdur-Rahim and Barbara Sorey-Love spoke of the devastating toll gentrification and COVID-19 have had among Clearwater’s Black residents.

In Pinellas County, the infection rate spiked among Black residents in June and has remained high with that community being hit harder and faster than white residents.

Related: One of Florida’s biggest disparities: How coronavirus spread in Pinellas’ Black community

Gentrification has pushed Black residents out of historically African American neighborhoods, said Abdur-Rahim, 65. And now, in the midst of the pandemic, health care funds and resources aren’t going to areas of the city with high concentrations of African Americans.

He said the cycle has prevented the Black community from thriving on its on — and turned North Greenwood, his home since the 1970s, into a neighborhood he barely recognizes.

Sorey-Love, 68, is calling on large health care providers like BayCare to partner with local clinics, such as the Willa Carson Healthcare Resources Center, to help ease the pain of COVID-19 in the African American community.

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“The majority of the focus is on South St. Pete," said Sorey-Love. But, “Clearwater doesn’t get that same respect."

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