In honor of Hispanic/Latinx American Heritage Month, we’re shining a spotlight on Oakland’s Fruitvale district.
Fruitvale is a bustling center of Latino culture, bringing together immigrants from across Latin America. Spanish is the language most often spoken on the streets which are lined with Mexican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadorian restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, churches, and nonprofit service providers. Two neighborhood anchors are the Unity Council and St. Elizabeth Church, both of which are partners in ACCFB’s agency network.
The Unity Council is housed within Fruitvale Village which is also home to Fruitvale Square where you will see kids playing, vendors selling street food, and community members gathering for political rallies, music, and on Wednesdays, the ACCFB food pantry, serving 150-200 local residents.
“So much of our efforts center around the Latino population,” said Kyle Radcliff of the Unity Council. “In the pandemic, we saw a need for a food security program to alleviate the struggles of the local community.”
Day laborers on lunch break and many of the moms dropping their kids off at Head Start swing by for not only a bag of produce and groceries, but the Unity Council’s hot meal program with donated food from neighborhood BIPOC restaurants. There, Unity Council staff also signs people up for CalFresh.
A few blocks away is St. Elizabeth Church where Ruben Hernandez has been volunteering for nearly 15 years. For him, food is a family affair, and he, his wife, and three grown kids all pick up and distribute the food.
“I want to lead my kids by example,” said Ruben. “And so, they all want to help people.”
St. Elizabeth serves the Fruitvale Latino community by not only providing Spanish-language religious services, but bilingual K-12 school. Ruben’s three kids went there.
The church is also a place where community members connect to resources and services. The ACCFB food pantry attracts between 150-200 people every other week. Ruben says that it’s more than a place to pick up food, but a place where people talk to each other about their lives.
“It feels like a family,” said Ruben. “The volunteers all know each other and so do the people getting the food. When I see people happy and getting what they need, it makes me feel happy and like I have purpose.”
According to Miguel Zamudio, ACCFB program coordinator who grew up in Fruitvale, the family feeling of sharing food is all part of the Fruitvale ethos. “Food is a comfort and something people from different cultures can come together around,” he said. “People share recipes and each other’s cultures, beliefs, and traditions.”
Miguel’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was five years old. Fruitvale – with its flourishing Latino culture – felt like home. Though he has since moved away, he returns on the weekends and takes pride in working with ACCFB’s partners like the Unity Council and St. Elizabeth.
“I love being able to help the community and give back,” said Miguel. “Fruitvale is where I came from, and in some ways, it will always be home.”