Stories from our communities: Part two

As the Coronavirus Pandemic continues to take a toll on our communities and their livelihoods, as us students are at home doing online schooling, we wanted to report on the COVID-19 experience happening in our own backyards.

Small business owner, Stacey Jackson, cuts fruit for customers to enjoy. Rachel Maldonado/The Union.

2:30 p.m. | NUDA, San Pedro 

By: Rachel Maldonado

While downtown San Pedro restaurants receive a COVID-19 friendly facelift with outdoor seating, neighboring small business NUDA, a juice and wellness shop, remains in limbo with none.

Small business owner Stacey Jackson, 39, of NUDA continues to “power through” in local business despite the adverse effects of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.   

“Right now, I am strictly grab-and-go,” Jackson said. “So that’s hard you know if you want to go out to eat; we’re basically not on your radar.” 

 As most downtown San Pedro restaurants have temporary seating arrangements available outside, Jackson has yet to receive confirmation after numerous attempts for an outdoor dining permit. 

“The city is really lagging and I don’t know why,” she added. 

Jackson, alongside her three employees were given a “50/50” shot from the city and customers as support from both rise and fall against negative reviews on Yelp and time constraints.

“While a lot of people are being, like extremely, loving and caring, understanding and compassionate, there is a whole backlash of the people who are not,” she said. “And that has been kind of crazy to deal with.” 

Despite the social distance between consistent business, Jackson ensures that time is spent equally among service and production as well as it can be during the pandemic. 

 “You know this isn’t Starbucks, we’re a mom-and-pop shop in a tiny downtown area,” she said. “It’s going to take a little longer then.”

Inside of La Fiesta Market. Fruits and vegetables rest on the shelves on Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 15020 W. Hawthorne Blvd. Maria Cornejo/The Union

1 p.m.| La Fiesta Market, Lawndale

By: Maria Cornejo

La Fiesta Meat Market is the corner of Maine Ave. 

The COVID-19  pandemic has changed the community of Lawndale, impacting grocers like La Fiesta Meat Market.

 In the city of Lawndale, all the markets and the grocery stores have fewer customers shopping inside. In the afternoon there are no customers buying groceries and there are no customers ordering food. 

Since the pandemic started, there have been fewer customers  and difficulties selling groceries and bread, according to employees. 

Martin Ramirez, manager of La Fiesta Market, also notes that, “the children have not gone to school,” contributing to their decline in sales. 

The shelves were full of food  and inside the market, there is Latin music playing in the background. The store has not closed down during the time of the pandemic, but they have not been immune to the pandemic’s impact on their community.

8:00 a.m.| South Los Angeles

By: Estrella Ramos

The streets are empty and many people in South Los Angeles are still in the comfort of their beds.

Mayra Gutierrez, 39 year-old nutritionist assistant II, has already clocked in at the Watts Healthcare Center. Gutierrez has been working there, in the WIC division, for three years.

The Watts Health Center provides preventative and specialty healthcare services to the community. As an essential worker, Gutierrez did not have the choice to stay at home.

“They downsized, about 130 people lost their jobs,” she said. “The major issues I’ve had [are due to] an increase in workload.”

“A lot of the staff went out on a leave, because they didn’t have childcare or the schools closed. All the elderly staff we have, they were gone.”

On a typical day, clients would start arriving at approximately 8:15 a.m.  The building would be opened to the community, but due to COVID-19, the Watts Healthcare Center was forced to close its doors temporarily. A lot of the people in the community depend on the Watts Healthcare Center for services. 

“The volume of people enrolling into the program, especially that first week, [of the pandemic] was outrageous,” she said.

According to Gutierrez,  the Watts Healthcare Center lobbies are empty, staff have been downsized and  transportation services have stopped. Chairs are provided in the parking lot and clients have to be screened in order to enter the building. There are no walk-ins as there was before, an appointment is required. They are, however,  providing COVID-19 drive-up testing in the parking lot area.

“The earliest days were the hardest, when we didn’t know what exactly what was going on, trying to get a hold of Lysol wipes. It was to the point that we were disinfecting in the parking lot,” she said.

“I was afraid someone coming in was going to have the virus and I was going to bring it home to the baby. [I] was being so careful [as to] not expose,” stated Gutierrez. “I never thought something like this would happen, and we still have to continue to go to work and risk exposure.”

The Watts Health Center is the closest clinic and services provider within the area and community.

“People in our community are struggling,” said Gutierrez. “Don’t lose hope. We are still out there, we are still trying to get the help to you, to continue to serve our community.”

Shaquille Lightbourne, 23, jump roping at Carson Park behind the bleachers on Sept. 1, 2020. Lightbourne is doing one of his boxing exercises since he took part in boxing in the past. Maverick Marcellana/ The Union

 9:23 a.m.| Carson Park, Carson

By: Maverick Marcellana

It’s a cloudy day in Carson Park; the playground may be closed, but that won’t stop this missionary and his co-missionaries from getting active during the pandemic.

Shaquille Lightbourne, 23, is a passionate Bible Student for Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ 4th Watch in Gardena, CA. 

He formerly lived in Raleigh, NC and flew to CA at 18 years-old in late Aug. 2015 to help  build the church and wants to feel useful for doing the work of God.

“To be a missionary means to do the mission that which Christ called us for,” Lightbourne said.

Living under COVID-19 has made Lightbourne more cautious and alert around people and more sanitary with his hands, watching what he touches.

He likes the sense of feel, “but since COVID-19 has happened I kind of stopped touching things,” Lightbourne said.

He makes sure that his co-missionaries are careful around people and that they wash their hands as well. 

Lightbourne desires  to be a pastor someday to help people spiritually and “to know God in a deeper sense.”

COVID-19 laws and regulations for churches in California have hit hard in terms of social distancing and mandatory face masks.

Associate Pastor of PMCC 4th Watch, Kenneth Ines, 27 year-old, has referred to these laws as “extreme,” and a “great hindrance” to the missionaries’ work with the closing of churches and the cancelling of gatherings.

The church tries to follow the COVID-19 social distancing rules even keeping the doors and windows open, wearing masks, and purifying the air with commercialized air purifiers so as to contain others from the virus.

“Despite this ongoing battle with these laws and whatnot,” Ines said. 

In the middle of the playground at Victor park, Steven Lee is sitting on a green bench alone to relax. Zoha Jan/The Union.

11:47 a.m. | Victor Park, Torrance

By: Zoha Jan

The City of Torrance announced on March 20 that they would be closing all the Torrance playgrounds. Currently, the playgrounds are still closed until further notice.

The restricted playground access has impacted the neighborhood in various ways. 56 year-old Steven Lee takes advantage of the abandoned grounds, and goes on short walks to sit on the bench alone and meditate.

“The park used to be packed with children before Corona,” Lee said. “I come here once a week to relax and look at the trees, it is nice sometimes, but I miss the old days.”

The number of visitors in the park has dropped drastically because of COVID-19. But, tracks are still available for visitors to take a walk or exercise. There is no guidance of sanitation on the playground, and that caused the area to be restricted for a while.

Maria Sanchez, 40-year-old housewife has lived across from the park for 5 years. She remembers when the playground used to be filled with screams, laughs, and whines of children.

“I have 2 children that used to love going to the park after school, but now it is sad looking there,” Sanchez said. “The situation has scared me a lot, the kids want to visit, but I am scared there is sanitization happening.”

There is no date given by the city regarding when will the playground be open for the neighborhood.

A green awning restaurant sign, identifying Paisano’s Pizza, reminds Hermosa Beach citizens to, “stay healthy and safe.” Logan Tahlier/The Union

6:30 p.mPaisano’s Pizza and Pasta – Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

By: Logan Tahlier

On a busy cold Tuesday night, longtime Paisano’s Manager Armaldo Rojas, who has seen the best and worst of Hermosa Beach’s favorite pizza joint over 16 years, looks over the restaurant.

Armando Rojas, 43 year-old from Lawndale, came to a realization on his way to work about the need for platforms such as Door Dash, Postmates and Uber Eats to boost revenue before the pandemic hit in March.

Rojas said, “business has been booming since the pandemic hit with revenue up 25% and labor costs at an all-time low with reaching an even bigger customer pool with the new tablets.”

Instead of being crushed by the pandemic which has crippled many businesses around the community with layoffs, Paisanos has thrived through the pandemic, hiring 3 new employees to keep up with the number of orders that need to be prepared amidst following new COVID-19 safety guidelines.

They found a better, innovative way to keep business going with half the capacity of tables for a business that is still going strong in Hermosa Beach after 30 years.

Proud owner Pramuan Box, takes picture in front of her framed dishes on Tuesday, Sept. 1. Leslie Hudson/ The Union.

11:44 a.m. | Jazz Melody Thai BBQ, Bellflower

By: Leslie Hudson

Across the street from a busy Taco Bell stands Jazz Melody Thai BBQ. The establishment’s sign is a tad faded, but stands bold and clear. 

Inside Jazz Melody Thai BBQ, the smell of fabuloso and thai food assaults one’s nose. That is due to 55 year-old owner Pramuan Box, mopping the floor while her food cooks. The television played on as background noise and entertainment for customers.

The establishment was full of color and pieces of art that depicted the Thai culture. There was plenty of seating, but no other customers besides myself. 

Despite her business remaining open, Box has faced her own hardships amidst COVID-19.

“There are a lot of online orders, but through the delivery companies like GrubHub, they take 35%, which puts a damper in [my] income,” Box said. “I need a steady income and I never have money to myself because I need to support my family in Thailand since they are unable to work due to the cities being shut down.”

Box’s busiest day at the restaurant is Sunday and if she’s lucky she’ll make $500 dollars. That amount is not enough to cover restaurant expenses such as food and drink supplies, nor enough to keep up with sending her family money and supporting herself as well.

She also expresses how she has to keep working and that she works more than 20 hours a day, however, she is grateful that they’re getting a lot of online orders. 

“Online orders [are] keeping my business afloat,” Box said. “Business is pretty good, but it is a lot of work.”

The LettuceFeast food truck serving its community on a smoky Culver City day. Thursday Sept. 10. Khoury Williams/The Union.

3:37 p.m. | Culver City, CA

By: Khoury Williams

The smell of smoke was doubled as hot oil began to permeate the air from the Lettuce Feast food truck frying up plant-based vegan alternatives for their community. A few customers were socially distanced from each other, waiting around and chatting as their orders were being  called up one-by-one.

The crew behind Lettuce Feast started as a blog site offering up free homemade vegan alternative recipes. As popularity grew, the original creators decided to put out a cookbook, and continued success led them towards the food truck business in 2016; serving various neighborhoods within Los Angeles County.

A gentleman came out with a mask, gloves, and his elbow extended out to greet me. This man was Derwin Jones, the manager for Lettuce Feast. 

“The most change came from how we operate,” Jones said. “We started to utilize our online presence more and began taking all orders online. We had to stop accepting physical money and shifted to just digital only.”

Thankfully for Jones and his crew at Lettuce Feast, business seemed to be going smoothly; however, the beginning of the statewide stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic painted an entirely different picture at first.

“Yeah, it [COVID-19] was very worrisome. We had lost a few of our loyal customers at the start due to the fear of everything and we had to change our hours of operation to accommodate them under the stay-at-home orders.” 

Jones had a very bright look in his eyes as he reflected back on Lettuce Feast as a business surviving 2020 saying, “We just had to adjust.”

Editors Note: This story was edited to correct punctuation on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 10:21 a.m.