Life on the Margins Episode 2: The Better Angels of the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Enrique Cerna, Jini Palmer, and Marcus Harrison Green


Amid the death and turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic, people are stepping up to aid their community with humanity and compassion. We introduce you to coffee shop owner Luis Rodriguez and volunteer Maria Lamarca Anderson who show us why giving is so important in these difficult times. Plus, we begin a new segment “For Real Though” that examines society’s absurdities, ridiculousness, and injustices that are leaving us in a state of disbelief, and making us ask “but, for real though?”

Episode Notes

0:33 – Episode Introduction

1:29 – “For Real Though?”

10:30 – Highlighting Garfield High School students Dylan & Eva Stepherson

12:09 – Conversation with Luis Rodriguez

23:45 – Tagging along with Maria Lamarca Anderson’s meal delivery

29:08 – Episode Recap

Guest Bios

Luis Rodriguez  owns The Station, a community coffee shop and activist hub which is located on Beacon Hill . 

Maria Lamarca Anderson by day works as the Director of Communications for UW Bothell.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, Maria has been delivering hot meals three days a week to Seattle residents who live outside.

Show Transcript

Luis Rodriguez:

We all hear the word resilient and resistant. We’re all like, “Oh, we’re resistant. We’re resilient.” Man, we are fucking resilient and resistant. Listen, all of our people are doing … We’re not doing great, but because we are used to this type of treatment in some type of way, we’re like, “No problem, we got this.”

Luis Rodriguez:

[Music 00:00:30]

Enrique Cerna:

Humanity and compassion amid the coronavirus pandemic. We meet Seattle small business owner Luis Rodriguez. His popular coffee shop is feeling the economic hit of our state stay in place order, but still he’s doing everything he can to help those in need with food and hope. Plus,

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

If there are restaurants providing meals, I’m going to keep delivering food.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Would you like a meal?

Enrique Cerna:

Wearing a homemade face mask and gloves, Maria Lamarca Anderson takes to the streets of Seattle to bring donated hot meals to those truly living on the margins, the homeless. What inspires her to reach out? This is Life on the Margins.

Enrique Cerna:

[Music 00:01:19]

Enrique Cerna:

Welcome again to another episode of Life on the Margins. I’m Enrique Cerna.

Jini Palmer:

I’m Jini Palmer.

Marcus Harrison Green:

And I’m Marcus Harrison Green. We are so fortunate to have three people of color spearheading this show from different generations, cultures, genders, and points of view. So, we made the decision to kick off a regular segment called For Real Though to directly share our individual perspective on society’s absurdities, ridiculousness, and injustices that are leaving us in a state of disbelief and making us all ask, “But for real though?”

Enrique Cerna:

Well, for real though Marcus, what I see is very strong absurdness are the people that are still objecting to the stay at home order. We’ve got sheriffs in a couple of counties in this state, we have others that have been protesting for the opportunity to go fish, which I guess they’re going to be able to have that opportunity now. And yet we have Dr. Anthony Fauci telling us that it’s inevitable we’re going to have a second wave of this virus.

Marcus Harrison Green:

Right, you have people who are equating stay at home orders with socialism. I think I just saw a text not too long ago from a billionaire Musk saying that we need to free and open up America right now, and I just want to go door to door to people, if I could. Obviously I can’t due to the whole stay at home order thing, but I would just want to just shake people if I could and be like, “Dude, we are doing this because of safety protocols and safety reasons. Can you just not chill out for a couple more months?” I don’t know for you two, but this has really just highlighted the fact that, for me at least, that there really is no trust in our society. We don’t trust our media to tell us the truth. We don’t trust our governments to serve us correctly with proper information and decision making, and it seems like our government doesn’t trust us just in terms of the general populace with what they’re giving us. They’ve given people directly, what? $1200, a one time direct assistance when you have a place like Canada that has $2000 per month for four months.

Marcus Harrison Green:

For me, it just seems very asinine and very revealing of the fact that if we can’t trust each other when times are the worst, how can we ever hope to trust each other even in the best of times? It’s been kind of disconcerting for me I got to admit.

Jini Palmer:

I think there’s been a lot of distrust in our government for some time now, and because of that I think people challenge and question figures of authority as opposed to looking at it like I’m doing this for the health of my community, I’m doing this for myself and the people that I love. If we could collectively have that perception instead of it being something that’s instituted by an entity that we distrust or entities that we distrust, then maybe there would be more of an understanding and more of a kind of collective effort to actually stay at home and do the necessary things, the things that are right for the greater good.

Enrique Cerna:

For me, what’s lacking more than anything else is just some plain old common sense. We have this virus and the pandemic and the fact that so many people have their lives damaged, people have died, others that are very ill, people feeling the economic stress of all of this. It is very clear that this virus knows no bounds, and when people are asked to stay home and yes, we know that the economic hit is very strong, but it’s a matter of common sense of protecting yourself, your family, the people you love, your friends. And that often seems to be missing a lot.

Enrique Cerna:

The other thing that drives me crazy is, and I just saw this, was you see the vice president going to a place where he’s even talking to someone that has been dealing with the virus, and he doesn’t wear a mask when everybody else is wearing a mask. What kind of signal does that send? It’s very contradictory. It makes no sense, no sense, and there is no common sense. We need to dial that up, common sense.

Jini Palmer:

Right, and lead by example.

Marcus Harrison Green:

Gosh, not only just by example, but just where is the level of coordination in this country? Even if we have the stay at home order, and let’s say there’s an extended, you still have states obviously like Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina who aren’t exactly adhering to the same safety protocol. It’s going to be inevitable that we get a second wave of this stuff, and so what happens if a relative who wants to drive up from Georgia to come visit and our curve is flattened and yet maybe theirs hasn’t? Then this whole thing can start over again. I don’t know. It’s just laying bare so many contradictions here in our society.

Enrique Cerna:

I also can’t understand … We have two sheriffs in this state in Snohomish County and Franklin County who are saying that they won’t enforce the stay at home order because of the constitutional rights’ issue. I think actually in Franklin county they may have revisited that, but I know that Snohomish County, definitely the sheriff there has said that he’s not going to enforce it on constitutional grounds. I don’t know the numbers for the people that have contracted the virus in Snohomish County, but I can imagine that it’s not low.

Enrique Cerna:

Again, it comes back to common sense. If I was living in Snohomish County I guess I’d really wouldn’t be [inaudible 00:07:34]. Is this somebody that I want in that position?

Marcus Harrison Green:

Is that actually that common sense isn’t always too common, and I think that is playing out unfortunately. I don’t know. Jini, what do you think? Why isn’t there more just the common universal understanding that this is extremely serious right now?

Jini Palmer:

Who’s to know when these states are reopening? And just based off of how this escalated from China to the rest of the world, it’s so evident to me that we’re not living in a closed off state. People are traveling all over the world. So if one place in the world doesn’t stay by these mandated orders, it could affect everyone. I think that that is pretty apparent.

Jini Palmer:

But to touch back on what you were saying Marcus, I do think that it’s podcasts like these, it’s conversations that start at home, it’s community based grassroots kind of discussions about what truly is of value here. Our livelihood, our lives, the people that are in our communities, and I think that this is vital and really important for us to have these conversations and to bring awareness into our own communities and hopefully that extends out.

Enrique Cerna:

And determine our values I think is very important.

Marcus Harrison Green:

Well, speaking of values though Enrique, how much of this lack of people wanting to admit that we need to have more trust amongst each other and need to have dependence, if you will, on each other is sort of steeped in the fact that we have this gospel of the rugged individual where we’re sort of conditioned to believe that we don’t need to depend on each other and we don’t need to rely on systems and governments and so forth? How much do you think that that is steeped into this belief now of locally even of sheriffs over in Snohomish and Franklin County where it’s like don’t tread on me, I don’t believe any of this, and this is an affront to my liberty?

Jini Palmer:

Absolutely.

Enrique Cerna:

Well, I think that’s very strong, and it’s a very American thing I think. But this is a whole different deal. We’re talking about something that you can’t see, but it sure can impact our lives, and more than anything else it can take our lives. So, we have to be realistic, and I think you have to put aside your own idealism and independence and realize you got to do what’s necessary to protect yourself and your family more than anything else.

Enrique Cerna:

Jini, one of the things that strikes me is that people, and we’re going to be focusing on in this program, people are stepping up to help others. You know that. So tell us about something that you found out.

Jini Palmer:

There was a recent article about two teenagers from Garfield High School and they built a website, and they’re providing care packages for these vulnerable people that are isolated by the stay at home orders. Teenagers Dylan and Eva Stepherson, they delivered 100 care packages with health supplies and basic food items and treats to Langdon and Anne Simmons Senior Apartments on 3rd. And they’re going to be continuing to provide Care-19 packages to more than 300 people in the next few weeks.

Jini Palmer:

There’s so many efforts, I feel like community based efforts to reach out and try to help people in need during this time. That’s something really lighthearted, and it feels good. It kind of inspires me to think about how I can help, and hopefully it’ll do the same for the rest of our community.

Enrique Cerna:

I think there’s a lot of hope yet, and I think in this tough time people are doing things to help others. The folks that we’re going to be featuring on our podcast today are two great examples of people that are helping people in their community and giving that compassion and humanity that we so much need.

Marcus Harrison Green:

That’s actually a great point, Enrique. And there’s also another thing that is actually making us ask, “For real though?” It’s a recent study that showed 90% of businesses owned by people of color will probably be left out of the federal government’s paycheck protection act meant to support businesses in need. We’ll talk to a local business owner of color to see how he’s coping during the crisis. This is Life on the Margins.

Marcus Harrison Green:

We’re proud to be joined by Luis Rodriguez. He and his wife, Leona, own The Station coffee house in Beacon Hill. It’s become a mecca for many people of color and activists in Seattle. Besides offering take out for his community, he recently turned his business into a food pantry to help feed community members in need all while trying to keep his business alive.

Marcus Harrison Green:

So Luis, you are a friend of the podcast. Welcome to Life on the Margins. We know that you are the proprietor of The Station coffee house in Beacon Hill. We wanted to start off by asking you what adjustments have you had to make with the coronavirus?

Luis Rodriguez:

All kinds. Some pretty sad ones like having to reduce the hours for our employees, reduce the hours of the shop, not being able to have people sitting in there. That one really hurts, because as you already know, The Station is a hub of Beacon Hill, and that’s where everybody gathers. Not having people around, that really hurts. It feels really empty, feels really lonely in there compared to what we used to be. Those are the adjustments that we have to do.

Luis Rodriguez:

I’m not sure if you know, but I support a lot of local and POC businesses. A lot of the products I buy, I try to buy them from black and brown businesses. So unfortunately, I haven’t been able to buy as much from them.

Enrique Cerna:

Luis, you actually consider your coffee shop to be a community activist coffee shop. Explain that.

Luis Rodriguez:

I don’t consider The Station an activist place. It’s just an activist place. We’re surrounded by so many bad ass people that come in there. Some cool politicians who are, let’s say they’re not even politicians like Nikkita Oliver. She’s a politician for the people. She’s one of my homegirls. She’s one of my friends that come in there, and we’re surrounded. Somehow all this activists around the nation come to The Station. Every time they come to Seattle they come to The Station, because somebody brought them there, somebody brought them there, they heard about The Station. But we are more like a community coffee shop with a lot of activism.

Enrique Cerna:

One of the things that you have also been involved in is helping Cleveland High School with a pantry they have there. Once the school had to close because of the sheltering in place, you took that over.

Luis Rodriguez:

Right, well Ray Morales, he’s the vice principal of Cleveland High school, also a friend of mine. He came with that. So, The Station has done a lot of things like this in the past for homeless, for POC people, for women who’ve been abused at home. We have done all these things. When he knew that schools were going to be closed, he came out with that idea. Obviously we were like, “Yeah, definitely let’s do it.” They came within one day and filled out a quarter of The Station with food and product. That food was gone within three, four, five days. We put it on social media, we told everybody on social media about it, and people were coming left and right. So we just kept going and kept going.

Luis Rodriguez:

There was a lot of people from our neighborhood that really, truly loved the idea to help, and it just kept going. One of the things that me and my wife did is that we went into our own pantry, and then we start emptying our pantry room because it was a lot of product that sometimes we just have to have. We just have all this product just to have it, and we knew that there were going to be people that actually needed that more than us.

Jini Palmer:

What’s your read on how small business POC communities have been enduring this crisis?

Luis Rodriguez:

Well to be honest with you, we all hear the word resilient and resistant. We’re all like, “Oh, we’re resistant, we’re resilient.” Man, we are fucking resilient and resistant. Listen, all of our people are doing … We’re not doing great, but because we are used to this type of treatment in some type of way, we’re like, “No problem, we got this.” Talk to Chef [Tari 00:16:41], talk to [Mussan Mal 00:16:43], talk to Chef Kristi, talk to all of these business owners. We’re surviving.

Luis Rodriguez:

I think the people who are not surviving are those places who are not used to this. A lot of these white businesses, they think this is the end of the world. For us, we were born with this. So we’re like, “Bring it on.”

Marcus Harrison Green:

You talked earlier about The Station being sort of that refuge for community, that refuge for people of color to come to, especially many times in a city like Seattle where it’s the fifth whitest metropolitan city in the nation. What has that been like? What has that adjustment been like for people of color in Seattle who don’t have the sanctuaries to go to anymore?

Luis Rodriguez:

Yeah, it’s very important. I really feel that The Station has become that sanctuary place for many years now in Seattle, and to not have that right now, to not have the place open, that has to feel some type of pain for a lot of these folks. For us to be open, it means the world to me.

Luis Rodriguez:

We have lost about 60% of our sales, but we have gained 100% of the love from the whole community and from the whole city. That to me is more important than anything. It’s very rewarding for me to know that we are open and that people can still come and find that little sanctuary love that they look for every day. We’re there for them, and not only can they walk in there, but they can take food, drinks, whatever they want.

Enrique Cerna:

You seem that you take this as a challenge, but one that in some respects, as hard as it is, you also relish it.

Luis Rodriguez:

That’s all we have right now. All we have is the love of one another. We don’t realize as humans that we need each other, then it will be a sad moment when … I feel like if I will crumble into a ball and be like, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! We’re all going …” I think that that would be a sad moment for the people that believe in The Station. So, I have to be strong for our people for them to feel strong that we got this, we got this. You know what? Beliefs in The Station is giving me hope that we’re going to be okay, we’re going to be fine on the other side of the tunnel. Oh man, we’re going to party, we’re going to hug each other, we’re going to love each other. For me, it’s very important to deliver the message that we’re going to be okay and that I love you guys and that I know that the love will come back to me eventually.

Marcus Harrison Green:

Luis, we’ve seen that there’s been two stimulus packages that have been passed by Congress. Seattle, our city has set up a stabilization fund for small businesses. What are your thoughts on what the federal and local response to this crisis has been for businesses like yours?

Luis Rodriguez:

The local, I feel that the local, to me, has been very nice. My local politicians have reached to me, they have called me, they have emailed me, they have text me to make sure that we, The Station, are good, if I need anything. Federal, I feel that they haven’t done anything for our people. At least I haven’t received anything from federal. I feel that our cabinet in the White House, obviously they’re not equipped for this, and they’re not trying to help the people, especially the POC people. It’s like apples and oranges. I love my community, I love even my politicians in my city.

Jini Palmer:

In the recent Seattle Times article you were quoted as saying, “We are going to remember this moment for the rest of our lives. So you ask what were you doing then, my kids can say that their mom and dad were out there helping. That’s all we have, right? Leave something behind.” And that was your quote. What are the qualities and values of the legacy that you wish to leave behind?

Luis Rodriguez:

I had this conversation with a friend of mine about that situation, and he was asking me why do you this. We come to this world, and the average life is about 65 to 75 years if you grow to die old, 75. We’re in this world for a very tiny moment compared to what the world is, millions and millions of years. For me, it’s very important that I came into this world, I helped somehow, I left some type of legacy for my kids, because I have two kids. Mauricio is 16 and Leonardo is 13 years old. They’re two teenagers boys, and they’re black men. They’re black and Mexican. So their father, me, being a foreigner immigrant from Mexico, and their mother being a black woman, a bad ass black woman from Seattle, I feel that it is my duty to teach them about love, compassion, community, to love one another.

Luis Rodriguez:

For me, that will be my legacy. What am I leaving behind? Was I just collecting money from my community? Was I just selling coffee and then going back home? Or was I actually helping my community and helping my people and living by example what a real community business is? So that’s my legacy, and that’s my message I’m trying to live for my … more important for my kids, for my wife, and a peace of mind to myself that I was here, and I made a small impact in my community.

Marcus Harrison Green:

Well Luis, we just want to thank you again for taking the time today to speak with us. Continue to wish you and your family good health and good fortune. I can’t wait till we can actually do this in person. Brother, I know I still have a tab with you that I need to clean up, and I will eventually. But let’s go ahead and get some Sangria or those wonderful tequila cocktails that you make out at The Station. I can’t wait to toast together one of these days.

Luis Rodriguez:

We don’t make no tequila cocktails at The Station. It tastes like there’s alcohol, but it’s all beer. There’s wine and Prosecco stuff, but it’s so strong that it tastes like there’s some alcohol in there.

Marcus Harrison Green:

I can attest to that, yes.

Marcus Harrison Green:

Well brother, thank you so much for being on Life on the Margins. We really appreciate it.

Luis Rodriguez:

Thank you guys.

Enrique Cerna:

Like Luis Rodriguez, Maria Lamarca Anderson is stepping up these days to help others. Maria was born into a Filipino-American family where she was christened Maria Reina Paz. The English translation of her name is Mary Queen of Peace. It is fitting for this Maria who by day, and at this time from her home, works as the Director of Communications for the University of Washington Bothell. On her own time at least three times a week you will find her on the streets of Seattle delivering hot meals to people we tend to ignore the most, the homeless.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Hey guys, you want some food?

Group:

Yeah, sure. Yeah, sure. Thank you.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Oh, he’s got them. Here. I don’t know if he can hear me very well. I’ve got a mask on, and today … Well, I’ve been doing this for a bit since the pandemic started. There’s a Seattle Community Kitchen Collective. It’s a group of restaurants, who out of the generosity of their hearts and their pocketbooks they provide free meals for anyone who needs it. And I mean anyone. I have just chosen to pick up, I don’t know, 20, 25 meals at a time and bring them around to the unsheltered. Right now we’re walking past the armory at the Seattle Center. I’ve actually befriended some of the homeless who spend their days there. When it’s open, they spend their days there, and at night they sleep on the buses and then come back here and spend the day.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Today it’s meals from Musang on Beacon Hill. It’s a great restaurant. Today there’s lamb. My car smelled really good. We got 25. I try to just do it all on one fell swoop, and if I pack it right I can get everything in two bags in this cart so we’re all good.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Hey guys, you want some meals? You want a meal?

Speaker 7:

Yes.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Okay, I don’t have a lot of forks and stuff. Do you guys have your own silverware?

Group:

Yeah. Yeah, I do.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Do you have silverware?

Group:

I do.

Speaker 7:

Oh my God, thank you.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

You’re welcome. You need silverware? Okay, hang on.

Speaker 7:

Thank you, ma’am.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Hang on for a sec.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Would you like a meal?

Speaker 8:

Yeah.

Enrique Cerna:

How you doing?

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Do you have your own silverware?

Speaker 8:

Excuse me?

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Do you have your own silverware?

Speaker 8:

Yeah, I got silverware. I got silverware.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Okay, great.

Speaker 8:

Thank you.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

I’ll be back with silverware. Hang on.

Enrique Cerna:

Why do you do this?

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Well, it’s the one thing that I can do. I can’t sell masks, I can’t make face shields, I don’t have a lot of funds to give. I’ve given some, and people need food. There are restaurants who are providing free meals, and they don’t really have a distribution system. So I just had the idea to just grab what I could and distribute it to people who are unsheltered.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

I’ve gone to the International District and parts of downtown and also Capitol Hill. I have been delivering meals and groceries to people served by what used to be Chicken Soup Brigade is now Lifelong AIDS Alliance. It’s my 24th year this year I’ve been doing that once a week. So, it just was a natural extension.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Can I give a meal to the dog?

Group:

Yeah.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Yeah, that way everybody gets food, because you don’t want your dog going hungry. Here, sweetie. Here, sweetie. Here you go.

Speaker 7:

There you go, buddy.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Oh my goodness. Aren’t you happy! Look at him go.

Enrique Cerna:

So, what do you get out of this?

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

I guess I would say the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped people. It’s only temporary help. It’s a meal, but it’s a meal they didn’t have. There are so many things that we need to do for the unsheltered, but if there are restaurants, and bless their hearts man, providing free meals. Today we have lamb. How often do you get lamb? So if there are restaurants providing meals, I am going to keep delivering food.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Would you like a meal?

Speaker 9:

What?

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

A meal.

Speaker 9:

Meal?

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Yeah. Food?

Speaker 9:

Oh yeah, thank you.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

You’re welcome. Do you have silverware?

Speaker 9:

Thank you so much. What?

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

Do you have silverware?

Speaker 9:

Yeah, I do. I do.

Maria Lamarca Anderson:

I know that 25 people ate tonight, and that just fills me up. I just think that if people could just stop and take a minute and think about what they can do, I would hope for that all the time, but especially right now. Reach out to people who need the help, and that can be the unsheltered, it can be the elderly who are isolated somewhere. Just give a little bit more.

Enrique Cerna:

A big shout out to Maria Lamarca Anderson for allowing me to tag along with her as she delivered meals. And a special thank you to her as well for what she does to help others.

Jini Palmer:

As we wrap things up, some thoughts about what we heard from the folks we featured in this episode. Although we’re living with stay at home orders, this is a time to be conscientious of our community to help those in need and also to reach out to the organizations and people providing the help and the food if you are in need.

Marcus Harrison Green:

Yes, and I love how both Maria and Luis, they’re just two everyday people who essentially sat with themselves and asked what can I do. And then they just did it, and I think this is a point where all of us need to do that. We can’t necessarily wait for our governments, whether it’s local or federal to do that. We need to ask ourselves what can we do, how can we contribute. Nothing is too small. Everything matters at this point, and so let’s get out and let’s do it.

Enrique Cerna:

And I think a lot of people are. I think many people have really stepped up during this time like Luis and Maria and so many others in our community that have said, “I need to do something. I got to help in some way.” Maybe it’s giving a little money if they have the money available to do so. But I think more than anything else it’s giving of your time and yourself, because those are so valuable as well. I think maybe even more valuable than money. But I am heartened to see that so many people are trying to find ways to step up, and I suppose what I hope for the most as we get through this difficult time is that we’ll come out of it and we’ll have some new ways of working together and working for each other, not just as Americans, but as human beings.

Jini Palmer:

Life on the Margins is a co-production of the South Seattle Emerald in Town Hall Seattle. I’m Jini Palmer.

Marcus Harrison Green:

I’m Marcus Harrison Green, and our music comes courtesy of the great artist, [Draze 00:31:06]. And our producers are Jeff Shaw and Hans Anderson.

Enrique Cerna:

And I’m Enrique Cerna. Stay safe, be well, we’ll talk more later.

Enrique Cerna:

[Music 00:31:20]