For the most vulnerable, pandemic just made everything worse.

When poverty and homelessness compound pandemic troubles, who helps?

Christina Fulsom speaks in gentle, measured tones, but don’t let that fool you. The founder and CEO of East Texas Human Needs Network, she can tell you just how bad things are for our neighbors living in poverty and without shelter. When physical and mental health, housing, job, paycheck, transportation and grocery money are hanging by a thread, an infectious disease with no vaccine in sight equals desperation.

In my first conversation with Christina several weeks ago, I recalled a clever public service announcement from Round Rock, Texas, appealing to our statewide love of chips and salsa. “Wash your hands like you just got done slicing jalapeños for a batch of nachos and you need to take your contacts out. That’s like 20 seconds of scrubbing, y’all.”

Suddenly, I heard this ad anew. I heard the assumptions about its audience. After all, not everyone has vision insurance and regular eye exams. Not everyone can afford contacts. Not everyone has a dependable water tap to scrub under.

How do you protect yourself from infection when there is no running water or soap or when sick leave and paid vacation time doesn’t exist? Christina tells us who our most vulnerable neighbors are and how local nonprofits are bending over backwards to collaborate and provide resources. I hope that, as she suggests, you will count East Texas local, nonprofit staff and volunteers among our first responders, providing aid in a dire moment.

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Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and Tyler Public Library. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.