food distribution

Staff members of the Barrigada Mayor’s Office load food into residents’ vehicles during food distribution Friday at the old Tiyan carnival grounds.

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Rustico Rosales, 68, lost his hotel job when the pandemic upended the tourism industry, and he's had no luck finding new employment.

"It's hard to find a job," he said, even after going to job fairs.

So he found himself lining up for free groceries at a drive-thru food distribution event on Friday, along with hundreds of other Barrigada residents at the old carnival grounds at Tiyan.

"I wish this type of help is consistent for people like me who's still looking for a job," he said. He used to hold a supervisory position, but is now open to any job that's available.

The federal government authorized about $3 billion for Guam's pandemic response and recovery, but many in the community continue to need help to get by.

Lillian Palomo, 50, said the Tiyan food distribution helps families like hers that are struggling. She said she has nothing but gratitude for those who make it possible.

"Thank you for helping the people of Guam," she said, as she waited for her turn at the food line.

The free groceries are courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP. The Guam Department of Education receives the commodities, and the mayors' offices and volunteers help distribute them to residents.

"It's reassuring that people do care about other people and I appreciate it," Mary Camacho, 74, said as she waited in her vehicle.

It's not only Covid-19 that worries her these days, she said, but also the news of intermittent shortages and delays in the shipment of food to Guam.

"So I hope this food distribution, especially with food supply problems, continues because it's scary," Camacho said. "I look forward to food distributions like this."

It's been nearly two years since the pandemic hit, and lines for free food persist in the villages.

"Talking to the residents, some are still unemployed and looking for a job. Some are working, but reduced hours. That means there is still a need for food commodities. They have large families. It really helps for those who are really impacted," said Barrigada Mayor June Blas, hours after her office handed out some 750 bags of food.

Two hours before the scheduled start of the food distribution, some vehicles already were waiting in line, Barrigada Vice Mayor Jessie Bautista said, while directing the flow of vehicles and greeting residents.

The boxes distributed to each of the families contained ham, apples, carrots, pumpkin and other fresh vegetables.

Each family also took home a plastic bag containing powdered milk, packets of chicken soup, corned beef, chicken chunks, raisins, and macaroni and cheese, among other goods.

J. Lizama, 73, and his wife R. Lizama, 68, lined up for food for their daughter-in-law and another household.

"As grandparents, we help pick up the food for family members since they're either at work or can't be here today," R. Lizama said. "This is very helpful for a lot of families, especially with the situation with supply and shipping."

Guam tourism has just started seeing some activity. Many businesses have reopened recently or are about to do so after long closures forced by the pandemic.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, at a press briefing Friday, said the newly signed federal infrastructure bill brings to Guam additional "job opportunities in the hundreds."

"We are looking at increased demand for construction, increased demand in planning, increased demand in all those ancillary careers that connect with what we want to do with our infrastructure bill and that is to fix our roads, fix our utilities, provide more transportation, accessibility to our people and provide more internet broadband opportunities for our people," the governor said.

Of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, $193 million is expected to go to Guam, officials have said previously.

Guam Community College and other entities have provided apprenticeship programs and skills training so that pandemic-displaced workers can find new employment in other industries outside of tourism, the governor said.

"And we are using our [American Rescue Plan Act funds] in that sense. We are always going to be flexible about responding to the needs of our people and our economy," the governor said.

The governor used ARPA money to give direct financial aid of $800 or $1,600 each to eligible families.

When the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program ended, thousands of residents, still unemployed as a result of the pandemic, lost a major lifeline.

The governor earlier planned a Guam Department of Labor program to subsidize up to three months of former PUA recipients' salaries so their employers can reopen their businesses.

The plan later changed to giving an additional $20 million for the Guam Economic Development Authority pandemic small business grant program.

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