Mariflor Ventura made headlines earlier this year for helping her Buckingham neighbors during the pandemic.
Dubbed an “Arlington superwoman” by ABC 7, Ventura has been finding and distributing donations and handing out food and basic supplies for a year — an experience that has changed her life.
But now, she is drowning in donations and buckling under the weight of unyielding need. Still, Ventura is determined to give a leg up to people who have fallen on hard times and is looking for ways to structure and sustain her work.
“I love Arlington,” she said. “Whatever I can do, I’m here.”
Ventura, who is a bus attendant with Arlington Public Schools, began helping her neighbors last year during the lockdowns when school was virtual. Through a local Facebook group, she found items for free and distributed them to her neighbors.
The network expanded quickly, especially after giving an interview in Spanish, which reached immigrant communities as far as Woodbridge.
“This year has been busier than when I started,” she said. “I’m going to have to take a vacation from the donations to spend time with my kids.”
Eventually, Ventura migrated her operation from the “Arlington Neighbors” Facebook group to her own Buckingham Mutual Aid Organization Arlington group. She recently started an Amazon wishlist to facilitate in-kind donations.
“I stopped fundraising because I don’t want to manage money,” which could open her up to criticisms about how it is spent, she said.
The Amazon wishlist goes beyond the basics. There are decorations so families could have proper graduation parties for their older kids and bubble wands, water guns and coloring books to occupy kids this summer.
All these ideas have come from Facebook group members, she said.
“They have good ideas and they like to help,” she said.
But Ventura has a wishlist of her own: A separate space for the donations, a nonprofit designation, and a regular assistant to keep track of appointments and help distribute items.
She has been considering the now-vacant apartment downstairs from her. Even the nearest storage facility is far away and the move might confuse people who are used to coming to her house. There was talk about finding a church basement, but that fell through, she said.
As it stand right now, her home is filled with donated items waiting to be given away.
“There’s no space to clean — there’s a tiny little space where we watch TV in the dining room area,” she said. “Some days, I give up and say, ‘I’m not going to do anything. I’ll just try to relax.'”
She laughs. “Normally, I’m a very organized lady. My mom taught me to have my clothes picked out for the next day.”
Ventura said some connections are working on turning the organization into a nonprofit, but that will take some time. In the interim, she imagines creating some kind of free thrift store.
The Arlingtonian knows what it’s like to have nothing. At one point, Ventura lost her job, her apartment and her car. But someone opened a door for her to start working at the county, and she worked her way up.
“From my experience, I can help more people,” she said.
She said it is hard for many immigrants to adjust to life in the U.S. — to find jobs, seek out assistance or just feel comfortable visiting a park.
“I hear from them that it’s their dream to come here, but when they come, they [realize] it’s not easy to live here,” she said. “It’s hard to find a job and if you don’t have family here, it’s harder. It’s just like they are stuck. Somebody has to help them up.”
Ventura said her neighbors are also returning the favor.
“It’s not like I’m the hero,” she said. “They see how I help and they’re helping in return.”
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