While Mauricio Castañeda should be enjoying his retirement, playing golf and spending time with his family, his age has put him at a higher risk for severe illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Because of this, he’s been almost completely self-isolated since mid-March, rarely leaving his home. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy.

That’s because Mauricio plays a critical role for an impressive volunteer food-distribution network that has been providing groceries to much of Dubuque’s Guatemalan population. 

He is part of the Tri-State VIATS, a volunteer group originally established to help drive recent immigrants to medical appointments, court hearings, and other important meetings. But with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Dubuque, the group quickly shifted to providing culturally appropriate groceries to Guatemalan families, many of whom had lost key sources of income as businesses began to close and cut back on hours. 

Their work wouldn’t have been possible without Mauricio helping guide their efforts. Mauricio was born in Guatemala, and first came to the U.S. in 1967. In the 1970s he met a girl from Iowa and followed her back to Dubuque, where he enrolled at Loras College. The couple married and settled in Dubuque in the early 1980s.

Mauricio has lived here ever since. He speaks fluent Spanish and English, which has made him an invaluable connection for many of the new Guatemalan immigrants who come to Dubuque.

Once the pandemic struck, Mauricio immediately began calling the families he knew, providing them with crucial medical information, translation support at the ER, and, perhaps most importantly, a trusted friend in a very difficult and frightening time. 

He has since played a critical communication role for the Tri-State VIATS, contacting more than 30 families about food deliveries, reporting problems and issues, and directing volunteers. 

For many of the families he has supported, the groceries he has coordinated have been their primary source of food during the pandemic. 

“Right now, people are concerned because they don’t know what the future will be like,” Mauricio says. “It’s hard, but just the way it is.”

Even with these challenges, Mauricio remains committed to his work. Although he can’t leave his own house, he’ll continue to work to make Dubuque a safe and supportive home for everyone who lives here.

Hosted by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, #AllofUsDubuque focuses stories like Mauricio’s about coming together and overcoming our differences to fight back against COVID-19. This is our opportunity to take advantage of our full potential, which we can only do when we act together as one community. Learn more at allofusdubuqe.com.

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