Eagle County’s MIRA Bus Staffers Help People Help Each Other
This article and photos first appeared in the Vail Daily on April 3, 2020.
Melina Valsecia smiles as her phone rings again… and again and again… 45 times last weekend.
Valsecia, Liduvina Porres and Fatima Becerra staff the MIRA bus, a 40-foot RV that brings community resources to neighborhoods that need it. The “R” in RV is a misnomer. They love what they do, but it’s not recreational.
Most days you’ll find the MIRA bus in one of the Vail Valley’s many low-income neighborhoods, handing out information and school lunches to anyone who needs one, and providing free COVID-19 tests and myriad other things.
MIRA stands for Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance, but it’s more than an acronym. It’s a rolling clearinghouse for local services in basic health education and screenings, application support for public assistance programs, food resources, workforce development, early-childhood education coordination and physical activity programming.
“We are a community resource. We were busy even before COVID-19,” Valsecia said.
Vail Health, Eagle Valley Community Foundation and Eagle County government provide most of the funding. Valsecia, Porres and Becerra go to neighborhoods and provide information. Most of their callers these days need information about financial and food assistance.
They do not ask for information about legal status or much of anything else. They just ask what you need and answer questions.
Luncheon is served
Earlier this week, they were in the Eagle River mobile home park in Edwards with Neighborhood Navigators, a bilingual program mostly comprised of neighborhood moms.
They’re lending a hand with Eagle County Schools’ free and reduced lunch program. When the school district closed buildings to help combat the spread of COVID-19, one of the first logistical hurdles was reaching people in the free and reduced lunch program. The distribution program started at Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high schools and expanded to a half dozen distribution sites from Dotsero to Red Cliff.
More than 900 lunches are handed out every day. Unlike the in-school program, you don’t have to qualify for one of these lunches. Just go to the site, tell them how many you need, and they hand them to you. They’re also delivering for some people who cannot get out.
“People are thankful. Some come every day, taking lunches for other families,” Valsecia said.
Tough times, good people
We care about each other most of the time, but sometimes it takes real trouble to bring it out of us.
“There are a lot of people who want to volunteer. It’s a matter of coordinating everything and everyone,” Valsecia said.
Along with driving the bus and working in neighborhoods, Valsecia is a health education specialist and earned her master’s degree in public health education.
The MIRA bus started rolling July 1, 2018. Three days later they were in the Roaring Fork Valley to work emergency relief during the Lake Christine fire.
It may seem incredible, but the MIRA bus crew is meeting with agencies and assistance organizations to see what else they can do.
“It depends on capacity and safety. We are following the CDC guidelines,” Valsecia said.
People are not coming in groups, but they’re coming. The MIRA bus staff will be there to greet them, long after the COVID crash is over.