Barber uses unexpected COVID downtime to aid community

The team of My Sister’s Fault posted this image on their Facebook page in May with the description: “Thanks for another great week for the books. Our team rocking #SiPodemos Tshirts supporting the movement started by Tito Vazquez and his efforts to protect, inform, provide support, masks, food and create conscience within the hispanic community to protect themself from Covid-19.” Submitted photos

By Noah Zucker

Special to the Delaware State News

MILFORD — When COVID-19 hit Sussex County, a Rehoboth Beach barber named Tito Vazquez had to stop cutting hair. But that doesn’t mean he’s at home on the couch.

“I turned a negative situation into a positive,” said Mr. Vazquez, who has been all over Delmarva spearheading a community movement called “#SiPodemos,” a Spanish phrase which translates to “Yes, we can.”

Mr. Vazquez started by giving out free masks and gloves to community members in need. Now, he and a cast of volunteers collect food donations for local food banks and continue to distribute free personal protective equipment.

“There’s certain people that are not getting the help or the resources they need,” Mr. Vazquez said, but “a lot of people from the community (and) small businesses have been helping out.”

“Tito and his team have started a movement where the young generation is … doing things selflessly, not to get anything out of it, but just to help our community,” said Gigi Jean, who owns One Way Insurance Group in Seaford.

Her husband and business partner, Ebens Jean, agreed.

“It’s a group of people that gets together to help their own community out with their own money and resources,” he said.

Although he’s the group’s organizer, Mr. Vazquez shares the credit.

“I guess you would call me … the leader. The head guy,” he said.

But he’s “not trying to be no boss. I’ve got my little crew, and we just do what we do.”

Mr. Vazquez’s volunteer work has taken him all over the peninsula, but he’s spent a lot of time in Milford, which has a big immigrant population. On Saturday, he was at My Sister’s Fault, a Puerto Rican bakery in town.

“Our team rocking #SiPodemos T-shirts supporting the movement started by Tito Vazquez,” said a post on the bakery’s Facebook page. It also commended “his efforts to protect, inform, provide support, masks, food and create conscience within the Hispanic community.”

But Mr. Vazquez’s reach isn’t limited to Spanish speakers.

“He inspired us to do the same thing for our community,” Mrs. Jean said.

The Jeans, who are Haitian-Americans, translated Mr. Vazquez’s #SiPodemos to the Haitian Creole “pitit kominot-a.”

A week before he visited My Sister’s Fault, Mr. Vazquez helped Mr. Jean organize a food-collection event and PPE giveaway in Milford.

The event was in honor of Haitian flag day, a holiday Mr. Jean said is celebrated across their culture in commemoration of Haiti’s independence from France.

“We have a huge Haitian population in Milford,” Mrs. Jean said. “When we do partner with Tito, we’ve always done (events farther) down in Sussex County … so we wanted to give something to folks up north.”

Although the Jeans said COVID-related unemployment is less pervasive in Milford than in some towns, essential personnel are often scared for their safety at work.

“When COVID-19 started,” Mrs. Jean said, “most of the information was in English,” leaving much of Milford’s immigrant population out of the loop.

Although she’s seen more messaging in Haitian Creole or Spanish and additional testing lately, Mrs. Jean said many immigrant workers refuse to be tested for fear of coming up positive and losing their jobs.

That’s exactly where Mr. Vazquez and #SiPodemos come in.

“I just want to continue to help the people that need help, that lack resources,” said Mr. Vazquez, who will resume cutting hair at Faded Barber Shop in west Rehoboth Beach in June.

“People look up to (Mr. Vazquez),” Mr. Jean said. “He just wants to make an impact on his community.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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