upper waypoint

Sonoma Group Rethinks Census Outreach Efforts Amid Coronavirus Fears

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

The team at La Luz Center pose with census outreach materials. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

Several weeks ago, when the coronavirus was still just a distant concern, a big crowd gathered at the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center in Santa Rosa to play Censotería, inspired by the popular Mexican card game Lotería.

The game is sort of like bingo, but with an educational twist. Each of its 54 colorful cards comes with a piece of information in Spanish and English related to the 2020 census.

"Did you know that 100,000 children in California were undercounted in 2010? Let's make sure all our children are counted in 2020," said Refugio Mata, reading out the description on Card 26 to a group of players assembled around a big table.

Next up was Card 13: "Will my information be kept confidential? Yes, under the law, census data can only be used for statistical purposes. Title 13 of the U.S. Code requires respondent's information to be kept confidential, and guarantees information cannot be disclosed for 72 years including names, addresses and telephone numbers."

La Luz Center, a nonprofit that provides resources to roughly 20,000 underserved, mostly Latino immigrant residents in the Sonoma Valley, developed this game. In February alone, the organization hosted more than 40 events related to the decennial count.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the nonprofit to completely rethink its approach.

Latinos, who make up a sizable percentage of the Bay Area's population, have been drastically undercounted in previous censuses. That means millions of dollars in untapped federal funds that aren’t reaching some of the region's most vulnerable communities.

"Sonoma Valley stands to lose $17.5 million per year for a decade if not everyone is counted," said Angie Sanchez, the community engagement programs manager for La Luz Center, and the brains behind Censotería.

Censoteria cards. Until COVID-19 put an end to live events, the new game was part of La Luz Center's strategy to educate the predominantly Latino immigrant community it serves about the importance of participating in the 2020 census. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

But Sanchez said many of the families she works with are hesitant to answer the census survey because they simply don't trust it.

"They fear sharing their information, thinking that it might be shared with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], with immigration," Sanchez said.

She came up with the idea for Censotería to build trust and allay those fears.

"We're trying to educate the community. So then they feel more comfortable and actually participate," she said.

The face-to-face aspect is key to building a sense of comfort and trust, Sanchez said, noting that many low-income Latino residents in the Sonoma Valley come to community spaces like La Luz Center for a variety of needs.

"Somebody can come in and receive assistance filling out their food stamp application, and they also might be taking one of our ESL classes or a small business workshop," she said. "Then they also participate in community engagement activities, like Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos."

"We need to do activities as a community," said Santa Rosa resident Raquel Gomez, who attended the Censotería event with her family. "It's important. It's cultural. And it helps people understand how much they can help themselves and help the community."

Santa Rosa resident Raquel Gomez attended the Censotería pop-up event at Roseland Village Neighborhood Center before these types of gatherings were canceled because of the coronavirus. (Gabe Meline/KQED)

But since the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, Sanchez said events like that are now out of the question.

"Because of COVID-19, we couldn't risk having our staff or volunteers out there," Sanchez said. "We've had to shift our outreach efforts completely."

La Luz Center has had to get creative, fast. With drastically reduced in-person outreach, the nonprofit is focusing on phone banking.

"We're calling those people and saying, 'Hey, you know, have you filled out your census? If not, OK. Would you like us to help you?' " Sanchez said.


But Sanchez and her team are finding that, not surprisingly, other more pressing priorities have overshadowed the census effort. Many community members have lost jobs because of the pandemic and are struggling to pay rent and buy basic necessities.

more 2020 census coverage

They don’t have money to go be able to go to the stores to buy all the things that they need," Sanchez said, adding that her group has relaunched a crisis fund it started in the wake of the 2017 wildfires to help families now struggling financially.

On their census outreach calls, La Luz Center staff are now also offering to help provide home-schooling resources and grocery deliveries.

"We want to make sure that their needs are met as well," Sanchez said.

But Sanchez said the census can't just be forgotten.

"The majority of our families don't realize that for each person that doesn't get counted, we lose $1,800 per person, per year for 10 years," Sanchez said. "That is a lot of money that can be lost."

In addition to the phone-banking effort, La Luz Center has also taken to dropping off fliers about the census at local food distribution centers, which have seen a spike in attendance in recent weeks.

Latinas Who Brunch held a virtual game of Censotería (Instagram screenshot)

Meanwhile, Censotería hasn’t gone away.

Sanchez said she’s seeing groups around the country playing the game via social media, such as the Instagram group, Latinas Who Brunch.

These virtual Censotería games have inspired Sanchez to plan the same type of online event for her own community — on April 2 at 4 p.m. via Facebook live.

lower waypoint
next waypoint