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Humanitarian of the Year: Essential workers' sacrifice must be recognized

Humanitarian of the Year: Essential workers' sacrifice must be recognized

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Audrey Jones

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Blanca Menjivar

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Alicia Cordova

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Jerry Carr

The Inclusive Communities Humanitarian of the Year Award goes to an individual or group whose work aligns with the organization’s mission and values. This year, the award is bestowed on all the Omaha Metro humanitarians – Essential Workers.

This decision comes in the spirit of honoring those individuals who have sustained our communities through the pandemic at great personal risk. They have kept us fed, kept grocery shelves stocked, cared for us if we were sick, educated our youth, kept the stream of packages coming to our doors, prepared our food, collected the trash, maintained the streets, came when we called for a first responder, and so many other things that we often take for granted. To elevate the experience of all essential workers, the organization has highlighted the experiences of six individuals with video and photo features. They are Audrey Jones LPN, meatpacking workers Blanca Menjivar and Alicia Cordova, third grade teacher Erin Violi, Hy-Vee service manager Jerry Carr, and volunteer services and community outreach manager Amanda Smith.

Inclusive Communities recognizes that the pandemic isn’t over, and while many have had the privilege of working from home, essential workers have not. “At the beginning of the year when we decided that this was who we wanted to recognize, we tried to figure out the best way that we could really encompass the plethora of people who have been sustaining us throughout this past year and half,” said Maggie Wood, Inclusive Communities executive director. “The pandemic highlighted inequities in our society. We saw here in Nebraska, the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities. We saw the difficulties in getting PPE to essential workers. We saw repeated outbreaks among meatpacking plant workers, and the battle that was undertaken to provide them basic protections. PPE wasn’t the only problem, it was also the lack of having paid sick leave, the inability to physically distance in their households, the job insecurity if they were affected by COVID-19 directly or needed to care for a sick loved one, the troubles of navigating online learning for their children while still needing to report in-person to work every day.”

Across the nation there has been a return to most in-person activities, which has highlighted labor shortages within the service sector. This runs concurrently with a battle that is underway at the federal level to pay essential employees a living wage, provide them with health benefits and sick leave. Inclusive Communities sees the need to shine a light on their work, in the hope that everyone will continue asking the question — "How do we care for the ones who have cared for us when needed most? How do we move towards honoring them in tangible ways that improve their daily lives?"

The stories featured by the Inclusive Communities Humanitarian Brunch Situation encompass the sacrifices that so many essential workers have had to make over this past year and a half. “They really embody what it means to be a humanitarian,” said Wood.

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