As of Saturday, in response to the threat of COVID-19, members of the Trans Sistas of Color Project have begun distributing care packages containing essential items to transgender women of color in need. Priority is being given to sex workers, those experiencing unstable housing and the elderly. Executive Director Lilianna Reyes explained that some members of the collective were in Chicago on business when news broke that cases of the virus had been diagnosed in Michigan. Realizing how hard-hit vulnerable populations like trans women of color might be, they cut their trip short and took action.
"Especially since many of our girls do contracting on the side to help support [themselves] and a lot of their contracts were canceled because of all the stuff going on … we were like, 'This is something we need to do,'" Reyes said. "And so, when we were driving back from Chicago, we stopped at all the little stores — we decided to make hand sanitizer and just pack bags as much as possible. With folks reaching out and giving us money, we were able to give at least 20 girls $20 [each] in addition to everything else."
Along with hand sanitizer, the care packages contain items like hand wipes, toilet paper, non-perishable food items such as granola bars and canned goods, plus over-the-counter-drug store essentials and water. For the elderly, blankets are included as well.
Reyes said they expect they'll need to assemble and distribute 20 additional bags this week. At the time of this phone interview on Saturday, she was shopping for items and reported five board members were out making deliveries to 15 women. TSOCP is using social media and word of mouth to make their outreach known.
Fulfilling a Mission
This initiative aligns with the mission of TSOCP, Reyes explained.
"For us, anything to do with trans women of color — to uplift them, or to create a better space for them, is part of our mission," she said.
For those interested in providing assistance, Reyes said the most helpful way is via monetary donations. With social distancing in mind and reducing the risk of spreading the virus being paramount, they are not seeking donations of items. For people unable to donate money, "We understand what that's like," Reyes said.
As an alternative, she suggested sharing "info from our [page] or any of the Trans Sistas board members' Facebook [pages] and/or tell girls who they know who are trans women of color to reach out to us. I'm okay with folks giving girls my number." (see below)
A mobile payment service is being used for donations.
"We currently use Cash App with Ruth Ellis [Center] as our fiduciary," Reyes said. "It will take some time to get to us, [but] most people have been comfortably Cash App-ing to me. What I do is I screenshot and I send it to the group."
She said that originally, they hadn't expected cash donations to be part of the care packages; however, sufficient donations were quickly secured to enable them to distribute $10 apiece.
"Then today, literally two hours ago, we had enough to give 20 girls $20," she said.
Reyes had a final word to share about caring for one another in these trying times.
"Be mindful," she said. "When things like this happen, think about marginalized communities: LGBT people, women, trans folk — and know that if everyone is panicking and if people go jump in their car and buy stuff, some folks might not have that luxury. So think about what folks can do, in a safe way, to help out."
To donate, Reyes can be contacted directly at 989-751-3740 or reach out to any of the TSOCP board members.