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Just outside the gates on Weldon Avenue in central Fresno, a long line of vehicles wrap around the block, waiting to get inside FIRM, or Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries. It’s the static testing site for the Fresno COVID-19 Equity Project, which started testing there in September.

The project combines the medical expertise of UCSF Fresno with the outreach of community based organizations like FIRM. The project’s focus is to offer free testing, making it more accessible in some of Fresno County’s most vulnerable communities.

For months, even as other parts of the U.S. hit record after record for newly reported COVID-19 cases or the number of patients being treated in hospitals, virus infections in California and the San Joaquin Valley had been holding steady. In the last few weeks, however, the numbers suggest our local bout with the pandemic has taken a turn for the worse.

On this week's Valley Edition: We take a look at the COVID-19 Equity Project aimed at preventing the spread of the virus in some of Fresno’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Plus, he lost his quesadilla stand to the pandemic. Now this LA cook is using his skills to feed communities including farm workers near Selma.

And we look at strategies to find permanent homes for people experiencing homelessness.

Madi Bolanos / KVPR

Before the pandemic hit, Heleo Leyva owned a quesadilla stand in East Hollywood, where he offered a special: buy one quesadilla, share the other for a discounted price.

But when he lost customers due to the pandemic and had to close his stand, he started a GoFundMe site to help pay his bills. That’s when he realized he could also use social media to feed others. His first step was creating a community fridge, where people could donate food.

Matt Levin, Anna Laven and Sonia De La Rosa

California Governor Gavin Newsom has a plan to use $750 million dollars of federal coronavirus relief funds to purchase motels and other properties that will be converted into housing for those experiencing homelessness. But, there’s a catch. If the properties are not purchased by the end of the year, the money goes back to the federal government.

After theatres went dark as a result of the pandemic, Fresno native turned Broadway performer Salisha Thomas launched a new project in which she explores one of her favorite topics of conversation - hair. In the new podcast Black Hair in the Big Leagues, Thomas uses hair as a launching point to discuss identity, culture and self-esteem. Valley Edition Host Kathleen Schock spoke with Thomas about the project and her journey from Fresno’s Bullard High School to Broadway.

American Public Media / Chanticleer

From the spoken word to classical music and jazz, help celebrate the holiday season with an eclectic blend of holiday specials from Valley Public Radio. This year, our lineup features familiar favorites like A Christmas Carol and Hanukkah Lights, as well as new programs like A Chanticleer Christmas and Hygge Holiday. Plus join us for broadcasts of everything from Handel’s Messiah, to contemporary favorites like David Sedaris reading from his Santaland Diaries on Tinsel Tales, and Pink Martini’s A Holiday In Pink radio special, and New Year’s Day live from Vienna.

KQED / The California Report

With its sprawling territory, climatic and cultural extremes, and teeming and diverse population, California is tough to cover. Yet, for the last 25 years, The California Report has knit together this vast and varied state, bringing you news stories and culture that define California’s role in American life.

Madi Bolanos / KVPR

The day before Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants. But with state guidelines encouraging people to stay home, many businesses fear they’ll just continue to lose money.

Javier Ruiz is a line cook at Little Hong Kong Chinese Cuisine on E street in Fresno’s Chinatown. The restaurant reopened with new owners in July, but according to Ruiz they’ve hardly had any customers.

A private philanthropic foundation is donating over two million dollars in grants to six organizations in Fresno as part of a nationwide

The Fresno Center is getting ready for the holiday week ahead with a special turkey giveaway Monday. It’s the nonprofit’s latest effort to fight hunger during this pandemic.

What started as a monthly food distribution has now become a weekly event at the Fresno Center. It’s a lifeline for people like Wessly Sequeiros.

“These places that help us with the food help a lot since my wife is not working and I’m the only provider,” Sequeiros said.

Madi Bolanos / KVPR

Not every small town in the Valley has a COVID-19 code enforcement officer, but Firebaugh does. His name is Sef Gonzalez and on this Tuesday, he’s dropping by restaurants downtown to remind them of the new rules issued by Governor Gavin Newsom.

At a Mexican restaurant, Don Pepe, Gonzalez tells the owner Juan Miguel indoor dining must stop by 3 p.m.

The Fresno City Council unanimously voted to accept the Fresno Police Reform Commission's report on Thursday. But as councilmembers clarified in the Zoom meeting, that doesn’t mean all 72 recommendations will be implemented immediately.

The report will be handed off to a seven-member Police Reform Implementation Team that will review the recommendations and decide what further action is necessary. That may include a budget review, a meet-and-confer contract or a policy change, according to councilmember Miguel Arias. But ultimately, the council gets the final word.

On this week's Valley Edition: Governor Gavin Newsom announced California was pulling the emergency break on its reopening plan due to the state’s rising COVID-19 numbers. We go to Firebaugh to get the reaction of this small Fresno County farming town that has fought hard to keep cases low. 

Plus, we discuss the growing humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh following the six-week war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

And we talk with award-winning journalist Farai Chidaya about her new podcast, Our Body Politic.

Sergio La Porta and Anna Ohanyan

Last week, Russia negotiated a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, ending a six-week war that left thousands dead. The dispute was over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory within Azerbaijan’s border but inhabited nearly exclusively by ethnic Armenians, many of whom are now forced to flee their homes - some reportedly burning them to the ground before they leave.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Ed Welker is relatively new to Avenal State Prison. He’s been incarcerated there only since March. But when he was recently moved to a new dorm in a different yard, he saw a familiar face. “One of the officers that are working right now in the building that I’m in, in the 2 yard, is the regular building officer over on the 5 yard, where I just came from,” he says.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

More than 3,300 inmates and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Avenal, which is the highest total of any prison in California and possibly in the entire country. So far, the virus has killed eight of the prison’s incarcerated men.

https://farai.com/

Journalist and author Farai Chideya spoke with Valley Edition Host Kathleen Schock about her new podcast, "Our Body Politic," which explores how women of color experience and shape politics. Chideya, who has covered every presidental election since 1996, also shares her thoughts on the 2020 election, political division in America, and the role of objectivity in journalism. 

 

When the Fresno City Council first approved a Housing Retention Grant in May for $1.5 million, the response was overwhelming, said Council President Miguel Arias.

“Within a week of announcing the housing retention program, we had 14,000 residents inquire about completing an application,” he said. 

 

The grant helps struggling renters and homeowners affected by the pandemic pay for housing costs including rent or mortgages.

https://covid19.ca.gov

A rise in COVID-19 cases has prompted another round of business restrictions in most California counties, including those in the San Joaquin Valley.

 

Governor Gavin Newsom announced today that 29 counties would be rolling back into the purple, most restrictive tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, including Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Merced Counties, which had been in the red tier for weeks.

 

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