Vanessa Villalvazo

The City of Wasco played a key role during the COVID-19 pandemic as they held pop-up vaccine clinics and food distributions with the help of the American Rescue Plan funding.

“During this historic pandemic, it was paramount to me that we direct resources to our most vulnerable residents. That began in Wasco for Kern. The earliest breakouts of the virus happened in Wasco facilities or businesses,” said council member Alex Garcia. “We were ground zero! Resources included the first rural testing sites that were established in cities like Wasco & Arvin, financial assistance for impacted workers, and more importantly vaccines the minute they became available for our communities.”

These clinics were immediately a hit as they were some of the only rural access points for vaccines in the county early on in the pandemic. 

“When vaccine site traffic began to trickle down I began thinking outside the box. It was a no-brainer when leaders at the United Against COVID-19 Coalition reached out about partnering with me to increase our vaccine numbers in Wasco,” said Garcia. “We brought together allies from all corners of Kern to these pop-up/resources fair style events. They were meant to be one-stop shops for utility assistance, commodity supplements, PPE, and of course, vaccines.”

The City of Wasco worked with the United Against COVID-19 Coalition to host the vaccine clinics. These organizations all set up a booth and provided COVID-19 information as well as resources like masks, hand sanitizers, and at-home COVID-19 testing kits.

“From day one, many non-profits such as Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAP-K), United Farm Workers (UFW), Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF), and others were on the ground supporting Wasco residents with PPE, information for accessing vaccines, and so much more. I’m thankful to them for working with me at the City and other faith-based groups in Wasco to provide vital resources to our residents,” said Garcia.

It wasn’t until the allocation of $25,000 this summer that the city of Wasco was able to provide incentives for residents to get vaccinated. Residents were offered $50 gift cards for every dose received at a city clinic.

“Use of ARPA funding in this way has proven to result in increased participation by residents. I look forward to continuing these efforts under renewed authorization and funding from the city council into 2023,” said Garcia.

Not only did the city of Wasco provide vaccine clinics for the community, but they also host several food distributions, such as non-perishable goods and fresh market produce. Residents have become accustomed to the routine of when and where these food distributions will take place, but the city council makes every effort to promote these events through social media, community collaboratives, and local faith groups.

“Thanks in part to the CAP-K and the Central California food bank for their food donations. Other events include the fresh produce distribution that also happens monthly at the St. John’s Church which is made possible by organizers from the UFW and a non-profit distributor from Southern California. I am grateful to see so much collaboration in our city all for the betterment of Wasco families,” said Garcia.

With the funding that the city of Wasco received, they also worked with Self-Help Enterprises to provide utility assistance for residents and established an online bill pay and a remote paysite with a local grocery store.

“Most exciting of all are the upgrades in IT at City Hall which have allowed us to livestream all city meetings, making engaging with local government safe and accessible. This was a longtime goal of mine which we were able to accomplish using funds provided by the ARPA,” said Garcia. “This summer, using ARPA funds, the city clerk was authorized to suspend transit fees for the local “Dial-a-Ride” system, a benefit enjoyed by many Wasco youth and working families through the remainder of this year.”

The city has also taken steps to upgrade some of its facilities making it easier to access city buildings by adding ADA-accessible entry doors at all buildings and shade structures outside buildings where lines accumulate. 

“I am proud city staff have been such good stewards of our ARPA fund. Our brilliant city manager and directors have been very innovative to think outside the box, yet within the scope of what the funds are allocated for in securing the best bang for our bucks,” said Garcia. “Those investments range from improvements to our water infrastructure, developing more green space, optimizing city services and so much more. Wasco’s best days are yet to come! I look forward to working with my colleagues, and state and federal leaders to secure ongoing support for these historic improvements to our city.”