Community Organizations Look For New Ways To Tell Residents To Fill Out The Census Amid COVID-19

May 8, 2020

Mi Familia Vota is an organization that focuses on Census outreach for communities who typically do not fill out the form. Prior to COVID-19, the organization had planned to co-host events with Fresno Barrios Unidos and the Fresno Unified School District. 

That all came to a screeching halt in mid March when shelter-in-place orders took effect. Mi Familia had to come up with new strategies for reaching out.  

“We immediately adjusted and started doing phone banking outreach and increasing our social media presence and also pivoting to Facebook Live,” said Samuel Molina the California state director for Mi Familia Vota. 

The number of people who have filled out this census is down by about ten percent compared to the 2010 census, Molina said. To bring the numbers up, Mi Familia has turned to phone banking, with 28,000 calls since mid-March.

“It’s allowed us to call more people, spend time making phone calls than having to drive and do person to person,” said Molina.  

Phone banks and social media are also part of the strategy for ACT for Women and Girls, a youth led non-profit based in Tulare County. Karina Gallardo, the communications associate, says organizers have learned they can reach out to a larger audience now that they’re operating online, and they can target specific areas. 

“We can pick the region as well so we’re picking regions that are also not the main cities in Tulare County so it's going out further into the rural areas,” Gallardo said.  

Organizations are also teaming up. ACT has partnered with Visalia-based The Source LGBT+ Center to get the word out. Source Board Member Katia Clark says that’s helped them reach a larger audience. 

‘We’ve been able to access people in the Latinx community which sometimes gets overlooked. And because of the citizen question that was potentially supposed to be on the census, there's a lot of misinformation about what the census is used for and what questions are being asked,” said Clark.   

Clark adds being an immigrant and a Spanish speaker has made those efforts to combat misinformation easier.

The Source is also shifting from doing an outdoor pride event in late May to hosting it online.  Noah Deeds, the events and fundraising coordinator, says The Source will take questions and remind people about why the census matters. Without an accurate count, communities will miss out on federal funding that supports education, housing and childcare. 

“It's going to be a virtual event on the same day and we are going to have a little census spot as well. It’s not the same but it’s the best we can do at this point,” Deeds said.  

Churches are also playing a role. Faith in the Valley’s Ariana Martinez says working with local churches in their online messaging has helped gain the trust of older Latinx community members. 

“So we’re trying to figure out how we can support them in ensuring that they can also give a message around the importance of the census and how that connects to our faith, and how that connects to this higher calling of caring for one another,” Martinez said. 

But not everyone has access to the internet. That’s why Faith in the Valley is also using other methods to reach people, said Martinez.

“We work with a lot of churches that are doing food ministry so [we’re] trying to figure out how to ensure they have the resources to let the folks know about the importance of filling out the census,” Martinez said.  

Faith in the Valley is also using its immigration hotline to remind people about the census and answer any questions or concerns callers may have. 

The census deadline has been pushed back from July to October.