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Rising Stars: Meet Irene Montantes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Irene Montantes.

Hi Irene, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
The LA Baby Cooperative/Cooperativa Para Bebés de LA has been working to meet a shared need for infant supplies, resources and empowering the community we serve in the LA Koreatown neighborhood since March 2020. Our initiative is to not put a band-aid on the issues we see in our communities, we provide resources and strive to encourage our community to join our co-op to empower and teach them the skills they need to thrive for themselves and their families.

When COVID-19 hit, parents at Urban Partners Los Angeles’ (UPLA) food bank in Koreatown found that diapers were fast becoming a major concern. Access to an adequate supply of diapers is vital for our kids’ health and wellbeing. No government programs support families with the high cost of diapers – these supplies are not covered by WIC or SNAP. Diapering poses a financial hardship for 1/3 of families in the U.S., and more of course during times of economic crisis. Seeing incomes and the supply of diapers in stores dwindling, we came together as an alliance of families and neighbors to resolve the need.

Since the start, LABC has been a community response to the urgent need for resources and infant supplies. We have procured thousands of diapers for the community and have conducted meetings to hear the needs of the community we serve and later provide the resources needed. Additionally, gaining their trust in an authentic way that helps contribute to co-op’s principals – of being there for our community and teaching our community that we can uplift each other through uniting and strategically finding solutions for each other.

We recognize that these are basic, common needs and we work together because no parent or caregiver should feel alone. The cooperative values every parent, grandparent and community member in need, and we strive to operate in ways that treat people with dignity and respect. Together, we envision a more collaborative and equitable future in which every family and baby has the resources they need to thrive.

Bring people in – Strong communities are critical because they’re often an important source of social connection and a sense of belonging. LABC accomplishes this through our community building, once that is established, we invite community into the opportunity to participate in our zoom calls to organize and strategize for our weekly distributions and gathering and networking for resources. Additionally, we invite community to join as a leader in our weekly distributions to help the community. Each community member that joins takes on management roles and contributes to decision-making for the co-op. The invitation to join and participate is typically done at our monthly meetings.

Empower the cooperative and the wider community – “Poverty eradication by means of an empowerment of families. For example, the Veneto Region chooses the family as a starting point to overcome poverty, specifically child poverty. Empowering people is critical for achieving poverty eradication. They need to be made aware of their rights and entitlements, equipped with skills to make informed choices and negotiate for their rights and have access to resources for their development. Empowering people to have the control and ownership of their lives requires an array of opportunities to choose and decide. These empowering people are the actors of their own development.” LABC accomplishes this by encouraging our community to take on roles in the co-op as managers of inventory, managers of volunteers, managers of social media and directors of outreach and directors of our weekly distributions. We have seen the various levels of confidence and change in the members who have continued to participate in our program.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It has not always been a smooth road, between juggling a family life, a 9-5 law firm job, school, LA Baby Cooperative and taking care of my home, it often feels overwhelming. However, after seeing the faces of all the infants and moms feeling happy after receiving help at our distribution on Saturdays, it makes the work all worth it. This is what keeps me going!

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I’m the Co-Founder of LA Baby Cooperative. I run all the social media pages, order inventory needed for our weekly distribution, manage the organizers that help at our weekly distribution and I work on the collaboration of working with other organizations to share resources to help one another out for our communities. Additionally, I report back to a board in which where we started the program out of.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
I’ve learned that if you put your heart, mind and effort into a cause you know would help your community, you can pursue positive outcomes. The commitment I have given to this community is where it’s at because of my commitment and the commitment of the organizers who have put their hearts into this work.

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