Breanna Reeves |
Important Message from the Editor:
Everyone has a story to tell about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IE Voice and Black Voice News is presenting this report in four parts, highlighting the journeys of inland empire residents during this ongoing, historic and pervasive event.
July 15 officially marked one month since California officially reopened the state. For nearly a year and half, residents were confined to their homes and restricted from engaging in in-person activities due to COVID-19.
The stay-at-home order was put in place on March 19, 2020 and since then, things in the state (and around the world) have changed permanently. Although the state has now allowed indoor dining, indoor gatherings and relaxed social distancing and mask requirements, the pandemic continues to leave a lasting impact on individuals and communities alike.
As of June 2, California recorded 3,685,916 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 62,044 deaths, according to the data provided by the California Department of Public Health. Riverside County registered 288,996 total confirmed cases and 4,442 total confirmed deaths while San Bernardino counted 292,990 total confirmed cases and 4,758 total confirmed deaths as of last month.
Communities of color have been hit the hardest by the pandemic due to a variety of factors including access to adequate healthcare, occupations, discrimination and mistrust of healthcare officials. The CDC attributes social determinants, such as people of color being disproportionately represented in essential work settings, as part of why these communities are exposed to COVID at higher rates.
According to The COVID Tracking Project, in California Hispanic or Latino people make up 39 percent of the population, but account for 55 percent of COVID-19 cases. Those that identify as Asian alone makeup 14 percent of the state’s population and account for 7 percent of cases. According to Black Voice News’ own COVID Black California Dashboard, Black people account for 6 percent of the population in California and account for 4 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Throughout the pandemic, people have suffered not only the loss of loved ones, but also experienced tangible and intangible losses. Some experienced the loss of business opportunities while others lost the motivation to do anything at all.
As vaccination rates increase in California and residents return to some semblance of normalcy, community members in the Inland Empire reflect on the last year and a half and the changes to everyday life.
Meet Chefs Chris and Ericka Moliner
Chris and Ericka Moliner met in 2014 while attending culinary school. Today, they are married and have two toddlers, Christopher and Colbi, and reside in “completely overpriced” Rancho Cucamonga along with their chocolate Labrador puppy named Roux.
“Before the pandemic, Chris was the sous chef at ProAbition in downtown Riverside and we had just opened our partnership with Lift Coffee Roasters in Riverside where we provided a live brunch experience on the weekends,” Ericka said in email.
Ericka is currently in the hospital, due to give birth in seven days. She is currently a stay-at-home mom and Chris is the executive chef at Downtown Experiment (DTE) in downtown Riverside. The couple, The Under Chiefs, cater and participate in local outdoor pop-ups and are currently preparing for the grand opening of their mobile kitchen.
Chris and Ericka lived freely before the pandemic, without much concern for the spread of diseases. They spent their week catering events or spending time with their children and spent the weekends working at the cafe.
“We went to amusement parks, family get-togethers, and really set the stage for the kids to always expect to go somewhere,” Ericka said. “Having them sit in the house for more than 24 hours was, like, unheard of in our household before the state closed.”
Chris and Ericka rented a space at the cafe where they presented their first live menu, however, as a result of the pandemic, in October 2020 they noticed a rapid decline in the number of sales they were making daily.
“As we had been doing great, paying rent for our space at the café was no problem at all. However, once our sales went down we were unable to pay for our space and ultimately had to close up shop at Lift Coffee Roasters,” Ericka explained. “We also were limited in the amount of catering jobs that we received as anything more than 10 guests or so was considered a super-spreader event. Catering jobs for 10 people wasn’t paying the bills, buying diapers or keeping us afloat in general. So, the pandemic nearly wrecked us.”
More than 20,000 businesses owned by women that were open at the start of the pandemic have closed and reopened at least once during the pandemic, which is about 10 percent of the total. Over 1,300 Black-owned businesses, about 12 percent, have closed and reopened with 28 percent of those — nearly 400 businesses — reopening twice or more, according to data from the Yelp Economic Average Diverse Business Report from April.
Despite losing their space at the cafe, Chris and Ericka persevered and adapted to the pandemic by successfully finding a way to market their new small business with to-go orders. They even generated enough revenue to hire an employee to make contactless deliveries to locals. Although their hours were reduced during the pandemic, Chris and Ericka mostly worked through the duration of the pandemic and eventually began seeing increases in sales.
As parents, Chris and Ericka struggled to keep their kids entertained. Ericka has an advanced form of cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease, and seeing family was a risk because they are also afflicted with underlying health issues.
“We had to keep telling them that ‘outside is sick’, and we couldn’t go out and do the things that they were accustomed to doing,” Ericka said. “Even working was extremely risky for us and things were just super scary like all the time.”
Chris and Ericka are still facing a large deficit in their financial stability due to the termination of their cafe contract and not securing any large catering events just yet.
“But as I mentioned before, we are very perseverant and have stayed alive,” Ericka stated. “We even managed to remain ranked #7 on YELP for breakfast in the IE and plan on picking up that torch when our mobile kitchen is complete. The marathon continues!”
Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @_breereeves.