Collaborative Innovations for Community Health, Meet the Grantee: Fuerza Unida
Through the generosity of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas’ Healthy Kids, Healthy Families grant, It’s Time Texas awarded the community-based, San Antonio organization: Fuerza Unida sub-grant funding through the It’s Time Texas Collaborative Innovations for Community Health (CICH) program.
The Collaborative Innovations for Community Health (CICH) program began in 2021 and provides funding for community-based organizations who mobilize and quickly distribute resources where they are most needed within targeted communities. This year, It’s Time Texas targeted two regions of Texas: San Antonio Metro and Galveston County. A total of five community-based organizations were chosen from these two areas in Texas. Funding supports the delivery of effective programs and services that improve critical health outcomes, address root causes of health disparities, remove barriers to access, and advance community conditions for health and wellness. It’s Time Texas partners with these grantees throughout the year to support their projects and initiatives, as well as their marketing and communication efforts in order to enhance their mission and visibility within their community.
Throughout the 2022 project period, It’s Time Texas is funding and partnering with Fuerza Unida in San Antonio. Fuerza Unida’s mission is to empower women workers, particularly women of color, to achieve social, economic, and environmental justice through education, organizing, and advocacy.
In 1990, Levi Strauss closed three manufacturing plans in San Antonio, leaving 1,250 Southsiders (primarily Mexican and Mexican American women) jobless, without any compensation for the sudden layoff. Viola Casares banded with Petra Mata to fight for the severance pay they deserved—and Fuerza Unida was born.
“I’m from Mexico, and I don’t have much education. I only went to fifth grade. My father didn’t think I needed education, but that I needed to learn to cook and clean. We moved to the United States, with a dream, thinking it would be a better life. My husband and I realized quickly we needed me to work in order to survive, and that’s when I saw the injustice. I was an uneducated woman of color and couldn’t speak English, and I was treated differently in the workplace,” said Petra Mata, Director and Co-Founder of Fuerza Unida.
Today, the women of Fuerza Unida continue working towards providing support to the groups that still struggle through oppression in San Antonio.
Members of Fuerza Unida pay an annual $24 fee/donation, allowing them to participate in all of Fuerza Unida’s community activities and gain support from the organization in whatever resources they need or are looking for. “We might not always have the answer. But we will help them find it. We support, listen, help, recommend, and learn together,” said Ms. Mata.
The Collaborative Innovations for Community Health funding is specifically supporting Fuerza Unida’s monthly food pantry, health and wellness programming, and the construction and sustaining support of a community garden on-site.
Every month, Fuerza Unida gives their members 50-60lbs of groceries in a large banana box—full of cans, rice, vegetables, beans, and more. “No questions asked,” explained Ms. Mata. “We don’t discriminate. Often times, if we have leftover donations and someone who isn’t a member asks, we give it to them. We give whatever we have, about 75-100 boxes per month.”
The introduction of health programming kicked off this past Mother’s Day with a yoga class and flower arrangement workshop.
“We really listen to our members and those who not just want, but are in need of specific resources,” said Maggie Mullins, Project Coordinator from Fuerza Unida. “That’s how our health programming got started. Our members need healing methods—yoga, Zumba, to help reduce stress.”
Lastly, the funding will help construct and sustain a community garden at Fuerza Unida. “We’ve been building the infrastructure, beds, a compost bin, fruit trees, and more. We want herbs and foods for healing and to pass out with our monthly food bank distribution. Something that’s nutritious and also provides peace for mental health,” said Ms. Mullins. “And now we can thank and reimburse the volunteers who come and dedicate their time to maintaining our garden.”
“We offer tangible things, but we also offer a community and family setting. People stop by to have lunch with us or if they’re having a bad day. We support each other. That is the heart of the organization,” said Ms. Mullins.
Petra Mata, Co-Founder of Fuerza Unida continues to fight for the rights of those who struggle through oppression in San Antonio. As she continues to work hard, she hopes to continue to grow and support the community, eventually passing it on to the younger workers, who can continue the fight for justice.
“Petra is really the glue of this organization. She’s always there for an understanding ear, flexibility, meeting our challenges where we are at,” said Ms. Mullins. “Petra has been in the struggle for much of her life, and the Fuerza Unida struggle for 32 years. She deserves to relax and relay the organization on to someone who can keep the heart of the organization and stick to the mission of self-empowerment, sustainability, and justice.”