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The Covid-19 Pandemic

Neighborhoodsby Louis Krauss12:13 pmApr 18, 20200

In Baltimore: unemployed or “essential,” but either way afraid

Voices from Liberty Rec & Tech, where volunteers this week were giving out free lunch bags to help those hurt by the coronavirus

Above: Bruce Satterfield, who lost his job due to the coronavirus, says recovery is a long way off. “I don’t believe what this idiot Trump says.” (Louis Krauss)

At a food giveaway yesterday in northwest Baltimore, people spoke of big losses, including the death of a family member, and small daily frustrations arising from a pandemic that has thrown a monkey wrench into their lives and routines.

“I do get a little stir-crazy, getting more upset with little things I expect my family members to do, which they don’t right away,” said Bruce Satterfield. “And I’m tired of repeating, ‘Wash your hands, stop putting your hands on your face,’” he said with a sigh.

Satterfield, 53, stopped by the Liberty Rec & Tech Center Friday to pick up some lunches for his pregnant wife and two siblings.

The center, run by activist Kim Truehart, has been offering 720 free bagged meals to the community every day. This day’s menu included ham sandwiches, pears and chips.

Sporting a face covering fashioned from a yellow, red and green dashiki, Satterfield rummaged through the center’s coolers.

“I’ve been able to adjust, but my family members are still making that move to wearing masks and keeping distance,” he said.

Doris George (left) and Jeraldin Garcia (right) pick up food at Liberty Rec and Tech Center in Northwest Baltimore. (Louis Krauss)

Bruce Satterfield picks up some  bagged lunches, while Doris George and Jeraldin Garcia carry bags of sandwiches, juice and milk from the Liberty Rec & Tech Center on Maine Avenue. (Louis Krauss)

“No normal after this”

Satterfield has been spending recent days making masks for his family, picking up food where he can, and sitting with his phone in hopes that he can find work.

After quitting a job he hated at a medical waste disposal company, which he said required 12-hour days in a sweltering warehouse, Satterfield was ready to start cleaning streets for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

But the job evaporated when much of the city was shut down because of the virus.

“They told me, ‘The job is being discontinued for now.’ And I did everything that was needed, like passing the background check and drug test,” he said.

After the cleaning job fell through, he tried to apply for unemployment benefits, but said he hasn’t succeeded yet because the phone lines are always busy.

“They told me, ‘The job is being discontinued for now’”  – Bruce Satterfield.

And adding to his worries, his wife is expecting a baby next month. He said he’s been thinking a lot about how to make his house safe and sanitized.

As for President Donald Trump’s assertions that the economy will soon be restarted, Satterfield scoffs, “There is no normal after this. I don’t believe what this idiot Trump says.”

Doris George was gathering food for her husband, five sisters and 15-year-old daughter, who all live together under one Northwest Baltimore roof. (Louis Krauss)

Doris George’s mission was to gather food for her husband, 15-year-old daughter and five sisters, who all live under one roof. (Louis Krauss)

Vulnerable at Work

For some at the rec center, the virus had already wreaked havoc on their family and friends.

Tashima Smith, 41, said the husband of her cousin died last week  due to complications from COVID-19.

She says she’s now worried about her aunt, who lives at the FutureCare Lochearn nursing home where 170 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, the biggest single outbreak so far in the state.

“My cousin also worked at that nursing home,” Smith pointed out, “and over half of the people living there have got sick.”

Working at the post office as a custodian, she believes she’s at risk, too, from asymptomatic customers.

“It’s not ‘I think’ a lot of them have the virus,” she said. Knowing its contagiousness, she believes some customers are definitely unwittingly spreading the virus into the very spaces where she works.

Tashima Smith worries that her post office cleaning job puts her at risk for being infected with COVID-19. (Louis Krauss) (Louis Krauss)

Tashima Smith says she’s troubled that her job at the post office puts her at risk of infection. (Louis Krauss)

“A Life Changer”

Asked how COVID-19 is impacting him, 60-year-old Amin Salaam called it “a life changer” and likened it to “living in a third-world country.”

Salaam is a truck operator at a landfill in Anne Arundel County, which he says puts him at constant risk of contracting the virus due to the unsanitary conditions.

“We’re flattening trash, so you can imagine the bacteria, dead rodents and germs mixed in there, probably even some dead bodies”  – Amin Salaam.

“The work environment is almost like walking into a hospital with so many cases of the disease,” said Salaam, who had stopped by the rec center to pick up meals that consist of sandwiches, pears, carrots and cereal for children in his neighborhood.

“We’re flattening trash, so you can imagine the bacteria, dead rodents and germs mixed in there. And probably some dead bodies,” he said with a grimace.

At Liberty Rec & Tech, volunteer Jim Johnson and director Kim Trueheart. (Louis Krauss)

Volunteer Jim Johnson and director Kim Trueheart supervise the collection and distribution of food. (Louis Krauss)

Plenty of Customers

The rec center offers free food, donated by the Family League of Baltimore, from 9 a.m. to noon every day, but they have a limited supply. On some days, the center runs out of food early.

With the rec center closed because of the virus, giving out food is the least she can do to help her community, Truehart said.

“I look out for our children as best I can because I think they’ve been under-served and disrespected far too often,” she said.

In Northwest Baltimore, a man covers his face with cloth bandanas. (Louis Krauss)

“I can’t just sit in the house,” says volunteer Jim Johnson. (Louis Krauss)

Along with on-site food, volunteers like Jim Johnson help Truehart deliver meals to nearby residents, many of them elderly and some having specific requests, such as cases of water and fresh fruit.

Johnson explained how he came to volunteer.

“I recently retired, and realized I can’t just sit in the house. I’ve got to get out and see how I can help some folks,” said the Vietnam veteran, who previously worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

It’s been tough for Trueheart to see her beloved rec center go unused. But she says she feels amply rewarded when “we pull up in front of an apartment complex with food, and the kids act like we’re the Good Humor truck.”

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