By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — She is everywhere and she seems to know everyone who steps on the property of the Fish Pantry. She ask about their families, if they are receiving the resources they need; she seems to know their history, she is Emma
Cosigua, trusted messenger in the Hispanic and homeless communities of North Knoxville; the gatekeeper thru which the people were able to get the ‘one and done’ Johnson and Johnson vaccine to protect them in the on going war against COVID-19.
Emma runs the Community Links clothing center and works closely with Fish Hospitality Pantries feeding over 7000 hungry families every month. They are the hardest population to reach in the efforts to vaccinate marginalized communities. It requires a high level of trust to reach the people of these communities. With Emma and her crew have the people’s trust.
When the people come, they are not required to show identification, they are never asked any personal questions such as income levels. They only have to show up and they can receive food for the day. Even during the pandemic, the feeding never stopped. The people felt safe and after years of serving, they know they can trust her. Cosigua has been in the streets, helping them for over a decade and that was why they came when she opened up a safe space to get their shot.
For months , In partnership with I AM The Voice of the Voiceless, Emma had shared the A.R.M. Yourself and Live educational flyers printed in English and Spanish all thru the communities explaining about the safety of the vaccine and the need for everyone to get vaccinated. In July, working with the Knox County Health Department , Cynthia Finch , and the Faith Leaders Initiative, her hard work paid off and a vaccine clinic was held at the Fish Pantry.
Language was no barrier as Emma and Silvia Calzadilla, another trusted messenger of the community translated as needed. Some, like a lady known only as Isis, came with no intention to get her shot, but left happy and vaccinated. In addition to shots, those who came also received resources for health care, bags of food, fresh bread, veggies and fruits to take with them.
An area previously unreachable without trusted messengers was served. The foot soldiers who are out there day after day, year after year made it possible.
By Vivian Shipe