CONCORD — Alfredo Vasquez goes to the Monument Futures casual labor center every day hoping this will be the day someone will pay him $12 an hour to build something, help paint something or plant something.
He used to score landscaping or construction jobs three or four days each week. But now, with the economy in meltdown, he’s lucky if he gets one. He sits in the center’s Monument Boulevard lobby with dozens of other immigrants who live nearby, just waiting for a contractor to walk in.
But there’s something else about 46-year-old Vasquez. He is happy, not depressed. Even as panicked as he may sometimes feel trying to make his $400 monthly rent, he feels in control. Recently, he started raising money for the poor and collecting food, and he sees light in this.
So far, he and four other day laborers have raised $716 for the Monument Crisis Center through car washes, restaurant benefits and friends offering a dollar here, a dollar there.
There’s even a big check hanging on the wall inside the center — a center that Vasquez and his friends use themselves, picking up free produce, cereal and milk each month to make ends meet. The food pantry, which helps more than 50 struggling families a day, has itself fallen on hard times. In September, the place ran out of food for the first time in its history.
“Because we’re immigrants, people think we aren’t part of the community,” Vasquez said Thursday morning. “They think, ‘Those guys can’t even support themselves, how are they doing this?’
“Not only are we doing it, but we want others to join us,” he said. “Many times I’ve thought I won’t make it, but then there’s always a little light. There’s a God up there.”
It doesn’t stop with fundraising. When a water pipe at the crisis center broke last week, some of the guys walked over from the day labor center where they were waiting for work and helped move food boxes stacked on the floor away from the flowing water.
Valentin Negrete, 55, lives in an apartment on Detroit Avenue with his wife and teenage children. He passes the collection basket around during Mass at Queen of All Saints Catholic Church. He rides a bicycle most places because he doesn’t own a car. And he helped run a carwash in Martinez to raise money for the crisis center. He was touched, he said through an interpreter, when he heard that the pantry had run out of food a couple months back.
“I come whenever they ask for us,” he said of the crisis center.
Taking BART from his home in San Francisco to Concord every day to find carpentry work through Monument Futures, Rosendo Chan has helped with the fundraising, too, despite how busy he is looking for a new place in Concord.
“I want to make a life here and be a part of things,” Chan, 56, said through an interpreter.
“We need to help each other if we’re going to keep going.”
Rosendo Cejas, 50, has been in the United States for 15 years and lived in Concord for five years before moving to Los Angeles. Then he moved back two months ago because times got too tough down south. He lives in an apartment behind Monument Futures with his father, mother and brother.
“I might as well do something to help,” he said, “because I’m not getting any jobs. I have the time.”
A Concord resident for four years, 47-year-old Tomas Solis struggles to pay rent on the apartment he lives in with his 22-year-old son. He said, “But if I have a necessity for help, then other people must have necessity, too.”
Vasquez said Monument Futures’ outgoing executive director, Molly Clark, came up with the fundraising idea.
“I just said, ‘Thank you, Molly’,” Vasquez said.
“I know I’m having trouble, but I am not the exception. And when you give something with your heart, it comes back to you.”