Charitable group providing menstruators with period supplies

Considering half the population menstruates and everyone comes from this natural female body function, it is amazing how much stigma surrounds this monthly flow of blood.

“It is the source of life,” Veronica Wong simply said of periods. So why then are so many people embarrassed to talk about menstruation?

Newly-formed organization helps women obtain menstrual supplies.

Wong is chairwoman of Period Proud’s board, an organization created to break down barriers, remove the stigma around periods, and provide Black, indigenous, and people of color with monthly menstrual supplies.

Period Proud is a 501(c)4 started by Anisha Murarka. The 2019 Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s raids in Mississippi left her angry and sad, feeling like she needed to do something.

“With so many sole financial providers jailed instantly, the beginnings of Period Proud formed to send menstrual products to community centers and churches in Mississippi. The group’s mission was to ensure all menstruators did not have to worry about choosing between a meal or a box of menstrual products for up to two to three cycles,” the website says.

It was a side project of sorts for Murarka before she reached out to friends to help make Period Proud something more. The board has three members, all people of color, and fourth person involved in the organization. All are volunteers. They live in various parts of the United States.

Just in its infancy as an organization, Period Proud has sent more than 40,000 tampons and pads to marginalized menstruators and the BIPOC community. Groups in Minneapolis, Oakland, Cleveland, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Los Angeles have been beneficiaries.

The reaction to these gifts has been heartfelt.

“Some said they had never had a whole box of tampons before,” Wong said. And this is in the United States in 2020.

Wong added, “As we delivered products to menstruators, we started hearing their stories. There is still a social stigma around menstruating. That is why we are collecting stories.”

Those first person accounts are on Period Proud’s website. Some are joyous recollections, including one person crediting her father for celebrating her womanhood. One woman was told by her mother that tampons are for sluts. Another didn’t know it was OK to urinate with tampon in. Sex and menstruation is a subject most menstruators face—no matter their sexuality.

Menstruation is also an economic issue and one of equity.

On Jan. 1, 2020, taxes on tampons sold in California were eliminated. Sales tax is also no longer allowed on specified sanitary napkins, menstrual sponges, and menstrual cups, along with diapers for babies. However, it’s just a two-year deal, so legislators will need to address the issue again this year or the tampon tax will be resurrected Jan. 1, 2022.

Eight states have completely eliminated the tampon tax: Nevada, Utah, New York, Florida, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Still, California is ahead of many others because public schools provide period products for free.

Period Proud as it grows plans to advocate for repealing pink taxes. Those go beyond menstrual products. They are called pink taxes because most things pink targeted for girls/women cost more than the same item in blue intended for a boy/man. A study published by New York City in December 2015 about gender pricing revealed that women pay more for similar products compared to men:

  • 7 percent more for toys and accessories
  • 4 percent more for children’s clothing
  • 8 percent more for adult clothing
  • 13 percent more for personal care products
  • 8 percent more for senior/home health care product.

This is not a new issue. A 1994 California report about gender-based pricing of services revealed women paid what amounted to a “gender tax” of approximately $1,351 each year for the same services as men.

This issue is global, especially when it comes to tariffs on international trade.

As Period Proud says, “Menstruation doesn’t stop when we are fighting for justice.” Following the organization on Instagram is the best way to keep informed.

Going forward Period Proud will continue working to deliver menstrual supplies where needed, plans to partner with other menstrual justice organizations, hopes to work with makers of menstrual products and other corporate entities, is looking into grants to help fund the cause, takes donations online, has swag for sale, and wants people to share their stories online.

Note: Veronica Wong is the author’s niece.

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Deets:

Fingers crossed we learn from 2020 for a better 2021

So many people are looking forward to flipping the calendar to 2021. What worries me, though, is so much of what has burdened us in 2020 is going to follow us into the New Year.

The pandemic will still be here. Political strife will continue. More people will lose their jobs and businesses. The divisiveness won’t disappear.

While Jan. 20 will mean a new president will be sworn in to lead the United States, it doesn’t mean instant change in the way so many would like to see. Remember, more than 74 million people voted for the loser. He will be ushered out of the White House, but his followers aren’t going anywhere.

Clearly, the electeds are not leading the United States to a place where we can agree to disagree, to where we respect one another even when we believe something else. The electeds have failed us in so many ways. That should hopefully lead to an overhaul of those in office at all levels in the coming years.

It is time for we the people to solve our problems—big and small. Maybe that includes acts of defiance. I have disagreed with the shutdown of the businesses since last March. I don’t believe a government should be able to close a business without paying the business to do so, which in turn means the employees will get paid. Maybe it’s time for businesses to operate however they want, and it is up to customers to decide if they are good with whatever protocols may or may not be in place.

Yes, health is more important than money. But without money, people can’t survive. They can’t pay their medical bills, let alone put food on the table, pay the rent or mortgage, along with all the other expenses of living.

Masks might be part of our lives for quite a while. Plenty of people won’t get the coronavirus vaccine, and even with it, some people will still contract the virus. Plus, it’s too soon to know how long the doses will last. Will people need to get the shot annually? Maybe. It’s still unbelievable to me that masks became politicized. Even social distancing is balked at. I wear a seat belt in a vehicle, a helmet when I cycle and ski. I wear a shirt and shoes into a business. Wearing a mask has not prohibited me from doing anything I want to do. Wearing a mask is a simple act to demonstrate you care about the health of others. It’s so incredibly selfish not to wear one.

What concerns me about having hope for 2021 is that so many talk about returning to what life was like pre-pandemic. It’s not going to happen. That could be a good thing. Were things really that great? We have the opportunity to learn from this huge disruption of 2020 and move forward, not back to what was. This will take work and will not be easy. Rarely, though, is something that is worth doing ever simple or easy.

People are already making adjustments to how they conduct business, where they do it, and even deciding to move into a new field. Pivot is one of the most overused words of the year; but that is exactly what people have been doing—pivoting as one roadblock after another has been thrown at them. Being able to pivot is an action that will follow us into 2021.

I am hopeful and optimistic things will get better. But that will be up to us to make it happen. It’s going to take courage, innovation, strength, determination, compromise and willpower. It’s also going to take cooperation, listening, and trust. We can do this–this being making the world a better place for everyone.

Baja Sur tightens COVID restrictions; masks mandatory outdoors


ATMs in Mexico tell people to wear a mask. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Baja California Sur government officials on Dec. 19 announced that anyone not wearing a mask in public would be subject to a fine. This was after the number of coronavirus cases began to surge again.

According to the BCS state government, as of Dec. 24 there had been 771 deaths, with 797 active cases, and 16,468 people having been infected. Throughout Mexico, as of Dec. 23, 120,333 people had died, with the number of cases at 1,349,928. When it comes to deaths from COVID-19, Mexico has the fourth highest total.

Not only could people face an 8,600 peso fine ($431), they could spend 36 hours in jail. Enforcement, like anywhere, will be the key.

Groups are limited to 15 people in BCS. The two-week Christmas/New Year period is when so many Mexican families gather to celebrate. Normally people are off work and schools are closed this time of year for happy celebrations, not because of a pandemic.

Hotel Jardines in San Quintín has rather permanent signs indicating the rooms are clean. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Despite the rules, in Todos Santos it is not unusual to hear parties going on into the wee hours of the morning. I’m happy to listen to the music from a distance, but worry I may unknowingly come in contact with one of the attendees out in the community.

Fortunately, I don’t go out much. The grocery store and produce stand are my regular outings where there are walls. Laundry gets dropped off at the door, so I’m never in the building. The few times I’ve had food or drinks out have all been outside, and socially distanced.

Even before the governor put out the mandate, people were fairly good about wearing masks most places I was going to in Baja. The last holdouts seemed to be the gringos at the tennis court where I play. Even they are now abiding by the rules.

A place to sanitize and/or wash hands outside of a store in Mulegé. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Early on during the pandemic Mexico closed all of its beaches, limited how many people could be outside together, as well as how many could be in a vehicle, along with shutting down businesses. Alcohol sales were limited and beer production ceased. Measures are not as drastic now. Still, the country is about six weeks behind the United States in terms of how the virus is striking people.

When I traveled down the peninsula in November I mostly felt safe with all the interactions I had. At Hotel Jardines in San Quintín there was a hand sanitizer dispenser attached to the wall in the room. Outside, next to the door handle, was a sign saying habitación sanitizada or sanitized room. While I believe this was the case, the sign was screwed onto the door so it’s not like it was placed there after every cleaning.

A gas station attendant in Baja California Sur with a full mask as he fills a tank. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Gas station attendants all had masks. Some wore them below their nose, though. Cubre boca is on signs throughout Baja with a picture of a mask. The problem is that the literal translation is cover mouth, as opposed to wear a mask. From family and friends who have visited or are living on the mainland, word is that it’s common for masks to not cover noses.

Another popular thing on the mainland is having to clean your shoes before entering a building. This was set up years ago when foot and mouth disease was an issue in Mexico. A few stores in Todos Santos have done the same, but most don’t have water or cleaner in the shallow basin to step in, so it isn’t doing anything.

While most stores in Mulegé either had sanitizer out front or some way for people to cleanse their hands, a good number of people in this town were maskless. That is why I was happy to get a COVID test when I reached Todos Santos.

Signs on the ground marking how far apart people should stand. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even at banks one of the ATM screens says to wear a mask. People are supposed to be spaced 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) from each other no matter where they are. Distance rules here are broken more than mask regulations, based on my casual observations.

Walking into the complex of stores in the Walmart center in Cabo San Lucas in early December I had my temperature taken and sanitizer squirted into my hand. More people were stationed at the entrance to the big box store, but they failed to screen me. I got what I needed and left quickly.

For the expats in Mexico who are permanent residents and 65 or older the COVID vaccine is reportedly going to be available at St. Jude’s Medical Center in Todos Santos as early as late February.

Advocate for maintaining medical visits during COVID

For someone who is not fond of going to the doctor, I may have set a personal record for the number of times I interfaced with medical professionals this year.

I’m OK. Nothing serious. Mostly routine stuff and then contending with aging aches.

What struck me, though, was how different it was with all the visits because of the pandemic. Most of my time was spent with Barton Health employees in South Lake Tahoe. One might suspect that under the circumstances they would be more stressed, perhaps not as friendly, or even treating patients as a number and not a person. I only have positive things to say.

The halls inside Barton Memorial Hospital are emptier during the pandemic. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

To me this is remarkable. These are people, who while they were not on the front line with COVID patients, were still working in a facility where the disease was present. They must have friends who are interacting with those patients. I don’t know if any of them were scared to go to work each day. Their professionalism was spot on even in these crazy times. This was true of the people at the front who took my temperature and asked me a litany of COVID related questions, to the people scheduling appointments, to the people administering the care and tests.

Some of what I did was preventative—colonoscopy and mammogram. All healthy in those areas. While Dan Norman and his crew are always easy going, they were not griping about all the extra garb they were wearing to ward of the deadly virus. When asked, some talked about moving rooms, the ventilation system and other COVID related protocols; all in a matter of fact way.

Twice I visited the imaging department—to get my boobs squeezed and for other X-rays. Instead of changing in a different room, the hospital gown went on in the room where the mammogram machine is located. The tech only complained about the virus as we all do; the absence of hugs, of not being able to interact with people as we had prior to March 2020.

For the shots of my lower back, I only saw the person taking the pictures. That was the most noticeable difference about Barton Memorial Hospital, the absence of people. Patients were not waiting in the normal locations, while few staff members were in the halls.

What is great about MyChart (which I’m sure other health organizations besides Barton use) is that I knew my results before going over them with the nurse practitioner. This online feature allows me to see what the docs are saying about the visits, I’m able keep track of when I should be getting regular maintenance, and can check on scheduled appointments. I’m sure I could do more with MyChart, but haven’t taken the time to delve into it.

Being able to first see the nurse practitioner via video was perfect. It meant not having to wait in a lobby wasting my time. The appointments were on time. The last one earlier this month we did by phone—all to go over the blood lab work. This year was my first time to use telemedicine; love it. I was able to describe my symptoms and get physical therapy for my sciatica.

Who I saw the most were the Barton physical therapists, with Russ being my main inflictor of pain. By the end, though, I was much improved. Looks like I’ll be doing exercises for the rest of my life in order to be as pain-free as possible.

My only outside of Barton medical experience in the summer/fall was to Carson Dermatology for my annual checkup because of having had prior basal cell cancer spots removed. Here and at Barton Hospital my temperature was taken to screen for COVID symptoms. Masks were mandatory for everyone.

I’ve heard of people being scared to get medical care during COVID. I’m glad I did what I did. What if I had passed on the care and a year from now I came down with something serious that had it been caught in 2020, would have made a significant difference in my life? That gamble wasn’t worth it to me. I trusted the health care workers were doing everything to stay healthy and in turn that would keep me from getting COVID while I was at their facilities.

Friends provide plenty of reasons to be thankful

While change can be a good thing, it can be disruptive as well. All of 2020 has been an upheaval in so many ways, so why shouldn’t Thanksgiving be as well?

For the past several years my Turkey Day has been full of friends—whether I was in Baja or Tahoe. Not this year. No big family gathering or large Friendsgiving—at least not in person.

It was touch-and-go whether I would even be in Todos Santos for Thanksgiving. Jill and Robert (friends who I’m staying with while I’m south of the border) invited me to break bread with them. I was supposed to make the apple pie. Then I got stuck about eight hours north of here for more than a week (that’s another story for another day) and my arrival seemed like it would never happen. The longer I got delayed, the longer it would be before I could get a COVID test. The longer it took me to get here, the more I wanted that swab. Results won’t be known until the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t think I’m infected, but who wants to take the chance of eating food prepared by someone who could be.

I’m bringing wine to the table. Much safer. Chiles will be stuffed instead of a turkey. It will be the perfect meal with such incredible friends.

So many of my Thanksgiving memories are about the food; just the smell of a turkey roasting, of pies cooking, conjure up times gone by. Those aromas won’t fill any kitchen I’m near this year. That’s OK. I still have my memories and new ones are about to be made.

Even more important is that I have plenty to be thankful for this year—even during a global pandemic. I’m healthy (as far as I know!) and so are most of the people in my sphere. Some of us have more aches and pains as we age, but those are minor in comparison to what so many people have gone through and are still experiencing. A friend lost her mom to COVID, another friend said goodbye to both parents just weeks apart, while others had to bury their 23-year-old daughter after she died of leukemia. Still, others have lost jobs, income, and are struggling to keep their business alive.

Many a time I have been at a Thanksgiving table where everyone lists something they are grateful for. It’s an acknowledgment we should all do every day, even on our worst days. I look over at my dog AJ and am grateful at 17 for every day I have with her. I am grateful to my friend Joy for leaving her four-legged fur baby to me. I am grateful to my mom, who at nearly 86 is still walking two miles a day, six days a week. I am grateful to have work that is rewarding and that I can do anywhere in the world. I am grateful to everyone who buys my books. I am grateful for all of my friends, who enrich my life in ways that I’m not sure they know. They are my foundation, my rock, and even my reason to keep on going each day. Without my friends, well, my life would not be what it is and it would be difficult to find reasons to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Lake Tahoe News archives free to everyone

Stories published on Lake Tahoe News are now free in archival form.

Lake Tahoe News was the preeminent source for news about the greater Lake Tahoe area from 2009-18. When it closed in summer 2018 the site was accessible via a paywall. That has been removed so people may access past stories without paying a fee.

So much of the area’s history is on this site. I could not justify taking it down and losing that information forever. Newspapers–online or in print–are often called the first draft of history. Plus, LTN broke so many stories and often was the only news source to cover certain topics. All the more reason to preserve this information.

No content will be added, no more comments allowed.

To keep up-to-date with my current writing, click here to receive a once a week email. I have also published three books since closing Lake Tahoe News: Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks, The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes, and Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks.

— Kathryn Reed

Homeless in Tahoe slowly moving from woods to hotels

Efforts are under way in South Lake Tahoe to get people out of the wood and into more stable housing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Homelessness is becoming less of a problem in South Lake Tahoe—sort of. A concerted effort is under way to get those living in the woods to be housed in hotels as a transition before paying their own rent for a more traditional apartment or the like.

This fall Police Chief David Stevenson launched STACS, or South Tahoe Alternative Collaborative Services. The main players are the police department, Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless, and El Dorado County’s Behavioral Health Department. Barton Health will also have a significant role. In October, Stevenson gave a presentation to the City Council about the initiative.

STACS came out of a grand jury report that said countywide there needed to be an improvement between law enforcement and the county’s behavioral health services. In April, the chief put together a homeless outreach team when the school resource officers were not needed at the campuses because of the pandemic. (With school resuming onsite, the officers have returned to their regular jobs.) Even so, a different cop has been named the homeless outreach officer; a position the department has never had before.

“I started looking around and found out that we have a lot of the pieces and all these players. We were all doing our own thing in a vacuum. I thought we could do better and do so with a more collaborative approach,” Stevenson said.

His first call was to Cheyenne Purrington, executive director of the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless. She started working at the 5-year-old South Lake Tahoe nonprofit in January. The STACS working group started meeting last month.

“The goal is to get people stabilized and housed,” Stevenson said. “The selfish goal for the police department is to reduce the number of people in crisis.” This in turn means reducing the number of violent encounters. “The power of the group is that we get that person what they need to maintain their stability.” This is done with follow up visits with the person when he or she is not in crisis.

Stevenson looked at other programs in the area and country to see what is working to come up with STACS. Because there is some overlap in who the police deal with and who the homeless coalition sees, they are natural partners. The coalition has a good handle on how many homeless people are in the area, which is way beyond the numbers the police see in their line of work.

The police interact with the homeless if there is suspected criminal activity or if they are trespassing by erecting a camp. A massive camp was broken up early this past summer behind Motel 6. A 40-yard dumpster was filled with the trash that was left behind. Up and down the Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek are common places for the homeless to set up camp. Most camps are an environmental nightmare, a fire threat, and often involve petty crime in nearby neighborhoods—with the theft of propane tanks common.

Part of the every 10-year Census count is a tabulation of the homeless. This took place across the U.S. on Sept. 22-24, including in South Lake Tahoe.

“Counting people outside in transitory locations is just one way we count this population,” Donald Bendz with the U.S. Census Bureau said. “The U.S. Census Bureau works with a number of organizations who provide services to people who are experiencing homelessness. We set up appointments with soup kitchens, shelters and others during our three-day operation. During these appointments we work with the service based organization to enumerate their clients.”

South Lake Tahoe police officers often get calls in the non-snow months about various homeless encampments. In September a couple people were asked to move on. This is the normal procedure—the homeless are told to leave, officers follow-up to make sure they are gone, then any clean up that is required is done.

Stevenson said he knew nothing about the Census count, nor were the people moved in September done so to sway the count. The Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless doesn’t rely on the Census numbers, instead the nonprofit uses the counts taken every other January. The next will be in 2021. In 2019, 110 homeless people were counted in South Lake Tahoe.

El Dorado County also relies on the biennial Point in Time, or PIT, count. “Federal and state funders tend to use the metrics of the PIT count data upon which to base funding to counties and states for implementation of programs to address homelessness,” Margaret Williams, county health program manager, said.

For now, there is plenty of cash to deal with the South Lake Tahoe homeless issue thanks to a nearly $10 million grant from the state as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey. TCH is in negotiations to purchase two hotels for the purpose of providing transitional housing for the homeless. The goal is get everyone off the street, so to speak. However, those working on this endeavor acknowledge there will always be a few people who choose the outdoors.

TCH when it first started as an all-volunteer group had a seasonal warming room where the homeless could sleep overnight. The group has evolved to have paid staff working on more permanent solutions. Now about 30 people are housed in a 22-unit hotel in town. Negotiations are under way to secure two more hotels (not in the tourist core) for the homeless, with the hopes those will be available this year. According to Purrington with the TCH, her agency serves about 400 people a year. Not all need shelter, some only use the services that are provided. The current offices are above Christmas Cheer. Computers are available to apply for jobs, check on benefits like Social Security, or contact veterans’ services. The space also has a shower. A private area is set up for telemedicine.

A significant number of TCH clients have income, whether it’s from the government or having a job. The problem is not having enough for rent, let alone first, last and a deposit. Getting people into the hotels will give them a sense of having a home. This will allow for the various social services to be able to easier reach this group of people. Those with the means could then possibly rent an apartment or house with others, splitting the rent and having what would be a real home.

“A homeless person costs a community $35,000 a year,” Purrington said. This is the price of emergency intervention, which includes food, interactions with law enforcement, trips to the emergency room, cleaning up homeless camps, and more. “The cost for supportive housing is about $11,000. It really is an investment.” And in most cases that is state and/or federal money, as is the case with Project Homekey.

An education in frustration at LTCC

For someone who has usually had good experiences with Lake Tahoe Community College, these last few months have taken a turn for the worse. One had to do with essentially being a contract employee and the other as a student.

I was contacted in July by the head of Connect Education at the college to be an instructor during a weeklong kids’ tennis clinic at South Tahoe High School. It sounded like fun. And it was.

The problem was all the paperwork. My in box continues to ping with another email from the college regarding a five-day job that ended months ago. Some would say I was a difficult hire, though I like to think I was the logical, pragmatic temporary worker.

I was asked to do this job just a few days before it was to start on July 20. I was not warned that I would have to fill out a ton of ridiculous paperwork. First came the application even though I already had the job.

After the third day of camp was done more paperwork filled my in box. The college wanted me to get a TB test and fingerprints, as well as take more than three hours’ worth of online training. I balked at all of this. After all, I was 60 percent done with my job. The TB test and fingerprinting would not be able to be done that week, and therefore the results would have come after the job was complete. So, really, what was the point? The HR director said the point was that these were the rules. It did not matter that the rules made no sense.

One of the documents I was asked to fill out was an auto pay form. It said it could take two to three months after being accepted to get paid. I said never mind, just write me a check.

I had to prove who I was with all the regular documentation HR departments/the government demands. I provided a copy of my passport. The HR director said she had to see it in person. I said, really? That was BS in this time of a pandemic for me to have to come indoors to prove who I was when there were plenty of people at the college who could have verified the passport was mine. This shouldn’t even be a necessity for a non-local new hire. We met outside the library for her to look at my passport and see that it was me.

While I was told I could not get paid without the TB test or fingerprinting, as well as doing the online training, I got paid and never did any of those things. I still get emails telling me I’m overdue in my training. The courses were:

  • Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Prevention
  • Fire Extinguisher Safety
  • Hazard Communication: Right to Understand
  • Injury and Illness Prevention Program
  • LTCC IIPP Plan
  • Mandated Reporter: Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Safety Data Sheets
  • Sexual Harassment Prevention for Non-Managers.

I’m not saying the training would not have been worthwhile. But if it’s so dang important, why was I hired and able to do three out of the five days of work before being asked to take the classes? Clearly, the system is not working. I do question whether all of that was necessary for the job I was hired to do. Well, we do know the classes weren’t necessary because I did the job, have never taken the classes, and got paid–eventually.

I had worked for the college years ago as an adjunct faculty member and as a tutor, but I still had to go through a process as though I was a full-time hire, instead of working for about 15 hours for one week. Even the college president thought the process I had to go through was crazy. I contacted him after I was done working, but while the human resources director continued to harass me to fill out more paperwork. I wanted him to know how insane all of this was. He agreed, and said he would look into it.

My issue as a student had to do with signing up for an online Spanish class for this fall. This was to be my first remote class. With being familiar with Zoom meetings and other webinars, I wrongly assumed this is how online classes worked.

I never bothered to ask friends who had taken an online class and others who taught them what it was really like. I didn’t know the class didn’t meet as a class, but instead we were given assignments by the teacher with a deadline to meet. I know my annunciation is horrific when it comes to the Spanish language, so I was looking forward to being corrected in the moment and hearing how the words should actually be spoken. The online learning LTCC offered was not going to give me what I wanted. I dropped the class.

Even that, though, was not smooth. While my credit card was charged the day I signed up for the class, it was not credited the day I dropped. It took two calls to get my money back, and even then the second person said it would take a few days. The credit finally arrived on my card.

I won’t even go into how non-intuitive it is to deal with LTCC online classes. It took talking to a friend and the admissions office to figure things out and I’m not computer illiterate.

I’m sure with how difficult I was with filling out paperwork, the college won’t be hiring me any time soon. That’s OK, though I did enjoy the tennis camp. As for classes, I’ll wait until they are in person.

Being a poll worker provides unique look into election

If only people could get along as well outside of a voting center as they do inside of it. People exercising their right to vote on Nov. 3 were patient while at times having to wait more than an hour at Lake Tahoe Community College. Only a handful of people had to be told their mask needed to cover their nose. A few were miffed California does not require identification in order to vote. Everyone could agree on one thing—they were eager for the opportunity to vote.

As a poll worker for El Dorado County on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, it was an up close experience into the elections process that I had never experienced. Some of my coworkers have been doing this for years. A county employee was there much of Election Day. Most of us were just ordinary citizens interested in the process. We received a stipend each day of work, which after tallying the hours came out to about minimum wage. Training was four hours, Monday nine hours, and Tuesday nearly 15 hours. (Election Day I had about 15 minutes for lunch, and was able to use the restroom one other time.)

Kae Reed waiting for voters to come through the doors in South Lake Tahoe.

You don’t get to go home just because the polls close at 8pm. Anyone in line at closing hour still gets to vote. Luckily, our line was gone by then. Still, after hours we cleaned up, secured the computers and then sorted the ballots. What I mean by that is we separated the ones to be counted immediately from the provisional ones, and stacked the envelopes by color. We were not counting who voted for which candidate or even paying attention to that. What we were to do was make sure the number of ballots matched the number of signatures.

Before anyone is handed a ballot they must sign a document attesting they are who they are. This is instead of signing an envelope.

What surprised me the most was the number of people who brought their completed ballot with them, but refused to cast it. Instead, they wanted another ballot printed out in order, as they said, to vote in person. Showing up meant they were voting in person, but there was no reasoning with them. We were not there to argue with their logic, or lack of logic as the case seemed to be. People registered for both parties felt this way; most, though, were men over 50.

Multiple people said they were told not to use an envelope. This was weird advice; envelopes have no bearing on a vote being counted. SPOILED was stamped or written in red ink on the ballots they did not want to use. Then they could do with it as they wanted; I suggested it be a cheat sheet, then a souvenir or fire starter.

The few who were fine with voting with their mail in ballot needed to use the envelope it came with or a different colored one provided at the poll centers if they no longer had the original one. Those getting a ballot at the site slid the ballot into the box without an envelope.

All of this paper is one reason this could end up being the most expensive election in California’s history as well as for the 58 individual counties. Same goes for other states. California for the first time mailed a ballot to every voter whether they wanted it or not. Those ballots and the one they received the day they voted were exactly the same. This was a lot of wasted paper, ink and electricity—not to mention time. Plus, with possible record turnout, it means more paper than usual.

Other costs incurred this go-around included cleaning supplies. Every time a person was done voting that station was supposed to be wiped down. Pens were one-time use, with people told to take them with them. We ran out of “I Voted” stickers; much to the disappointment of many people. Tape covered the floor for social distancing, though that was difficult at times even though the number of people allowed in at a time was regulated.

Various signs ready to be placed outside the Lake Tahoe Community College polling center. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

To keep myself safe I wore an R95 mask the entire first day. The second day it lasted for about 11 hours and then I went to a surgical mask/face shield combo. I got a COVID test Nov. 4 just to make sure I was not infected by the coronavirus while working.

Mostly I checked people in via a computer by verifying their name, address and date of birth. For a few, their addresses were updated. This is important because on the East Slope of the county there were more than a dozen ballots because of the various special districts—think fire, utilities, schools, city v. county items.

A ton of people registered on-site on Election Day. They received a provisional ballot in order to allow time to verify they are legally qualified to vote in El Dorado County. People living in another part of the state did not understand why we could not print their ballot. Others thought they could live in another state and vote in California. The ignorance of some people was mind-boggling.

Some thought they had to fill out the entire ballot even if they knew nothing about the candidate or ballot measures. Workers assured them a partially filled out ballot was fine; just fill in the circles you want to, leave the others blank was a common mantra.

Potential future voters at times filled the room in South Lake Tahoe. These youngsters were getting a lesson in civics as they watched their parents mark their ballots. Some parents were there with young adult children who were voting for the first time.

I didn’t see the final tally, but the LTCC vote center was on pace to have the second highest number of votes cast on Election Day in El Dorado County. While the election site says there are 202 precincts, the county had 13 vote centers—two on the South Shore.

As of the morning of Oct. 28 (when I trained for the election gig), about 61,000 ballots had been cast, with the number of registered voters in El Dorado County being135,554. This was about the total number who voted in the March primary, according to election’s staff. As of Nov. 4, the county reported 89,405 ballots had been cast, which is a 65.96 percent voter turnout rate.

Firefighting no longer solely a man’s job in Mexico

While safety has always been of utmost concern for first responders, during this pandemic rushing to the scene of any incident comes with a more cautionary approach to ensure no one’s health is compromised.

Griselda Sotelo, commander of the Volunteer Fire Department of Pescadero, is responsible for the 16 firefighters who work for her. Neither she nor any of the bomberos are paid. Because of the deadly virus their lives are even more at risk each time they respond to a call.

Griselda Sotelo with the Pescadero fire department in Baja California Sur was the first woman to lead a Mexico fire agency. (Image: Pro Paramedicos)

“Things have changed a lot because it is more difficult to help because you always have to be aware of having adequate protection and the utmost care to keep yourself safe, taking care of yourself and others,” Sotelo said of what it’s been like since March.

Being a volunteer agency, as many are in Mexico, it can be difficult to get the necessary equipment to do their job in normal times. The government doesn’t offer much in the way of help. And these are anything but normal times. Pro Paramedicos has stepped in to be a conduit between financial donors who are mostly expats and nine area paramedic teams.

Pablo Ahuja and doctor Xchel Palafox formed the group March 31, the same date the first two COVID-19 deaths were recorded in the state. “Originally the project was formed to gather donations to buy PPE (personal protection equipment) for nine local paramedic teams who had none,” Ahuja said. In addition to Pescadero, the other agencies that are being helped include: Las Pocitas, Bomberos La Paz, Protección Civil de La Paz, Grupo Calafia in La Paz, Bomberos Todos Santos, Protection Civil Los Barriles, Grupo Torres in Los Planes, and Grupo Sierra in El Sargento/La Ventana.

“One of the greatest challenges is keeping PPE available because the prices continually rise and local scarcity of different items interrupts the supply chain,” Ahuja said. “Our greatest accomplishment to date is that not a single one of the 120 plus paramedics we equip with PPE has become COVID positive.”

Pro Paramedicos is a group of volunteers without any paid staff. It has expanded its reach by providing PPE to the three hospitals in La Paz with COVID wards, and to eight community health centers. More than 500,000 pesos ($22,000-plus U.S.) worth of PPEs had been distributed in six months.

While COVID is always a concern, car accidents remain the No. 1 call for the Pescadero firefighters.

The 51-year-old Sotelo is well known in this Baja California Sur community. In 2007, she became Mexico’s first commander of a fire department. Today there only two women with this title in Mexico.

Griselda Sotelo, third from left, with her crew. (Image: Pro Paramedicos)

Sotelo’s route to this job was a bit circuitous.

“When I was a child and was rescued by a firefighter, from there it was always my dream,” she said.

Her family was living in La Paz when Hurricane Liza struck in fall 1976. To date this is the deadliest hurricane to blow through the state. When a dam broke it flooded Sotelo’s neighborhood. She was with her parents and three siblings when their vehicle started to float away in the rising flood waters. That’s when they were rescued and that’s when the then 7-year-old knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Sotelo’s childhood was not easy. Living in a cardboard contraption never is. Despite financial struggles, she was a giver when it came to animals. This trait continues as she works to save the local turtles. She started helping turtles in 2004 at a time when people were still routinely eating turtle eggs. Once Sotelo learned about these wild animals she started educating others. She calls it a passion and that “it is the food of my soul.”

Even though she took her initial first aide course at age 18, her life went in a different direction when she got married at 22. It was in 2001 that she moved to Pescadero where her mom was living. Sotelo was 33, divorced and had three kids.

What she likes to tell people is “it is never too late to pursue your dreams because nothing is unattainable. Seek your mission in life and take advantage of your talents with dedication and effort. There will always be a reward.”

She with others started Patrol 64 Preservation and Rescue in 2007 at her home. The 64 is in reference to the kilometer marker off the highway. It is now known as Bomberos Voluntarios de Pescadero. “We realized the high rate of car accidents in our community. For this reason we decided to enter our training as firefighters by vehicular extraction.” This was after going to the fire academy in La Paz.

There is no normal day for her or her charges. “It depends on the day; there are days in which you have to work from dawn until you go to sleep and others in which it is a very quiet day,” Sotelo said.

Three of her four children, who range in age from 22 to 29, have followed in her footsteps in becoming firefighter/paramedics.

While the donations from Pro Paramedicos are a literal life saver, the volunteer crew in Pescadero needs so much more.

“We currently have an ambulance and a small fire truck operating. When we started we only had an ambulance and a team eager to learn and help,” Sotelo said. She would like the command center to be some place other than her home, a fire truck in better condition, rescue equipment and a basket, another ambulance, and more training for the volunteers.

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