The Cepeda family, like many across Connecticut, is settling into a new normal.
“Only about a day has passed,” said Christian Cepeda via FaceTime. “As for the future, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Cepeda and her mother Josefina both work at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Cepeda’s sister works in Mohegan Sun. All three family members are temporarily out of work due to the historic closure of the COVID-19 casino.
“We should all be concerned because we don’t know exactly how long it will last,” said Cepeda. “At some point you don’t know when things will pile up too high.”
Cepeda has spent the past five years working on world-class Monza Karting in the resort. Cepeda’s sister is a Mohegan Sun reseller and her mother, Josefina, has worked on Foxwoods’ maintenance team for 19 years.
“As you can imagine, his routine is completely out of his mind,” said Cepeda.
Casinos are closed for two weeks. According to a spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, all members of the Foxwoods team were fired for the two weeks. I am able to use the benefit time, with all the benefits remaining in place.
Mohegan Sun president and chief executive officer Jeff Hamilton said he had made no layoffs due to the temporary shutdown.
“This is a difficult and arduous moment in which we find ourselves, even if the top priority of our leadership is to bring all the interested team members back to a reopening, at which point we have the utmost confidence that we will return stronger than ever in providing an unparalleled experience for our guests, “wrote Hamilton in a note.
Cepeda said his family is grateful that the casinos have closed to keep everyone safe. Their jobless time so far has been filled with extra family time, enjoy each other’s company.
Cepeda and her sister applied for unemployment and also helped the mother to apply for unemployment. He fears for his colleagues who don’t have access to a computer or understand how to apply for unemployment.
“My mom is lucky because my sister and I are here,” said Cepeda. “But there are many other families, many other immigrant workers and then they come to find that they lose their jobs for an uncertain number of weeks. Some don’t even know how to sign up for unemployment. You have to do it through online.”
The Connecticut Department of Labor has received over 52,000 unemployment claims since Friday March 13, which is approximately 20 times the normal amount of claims. The DOL usually received 2,500 requests per week.
According to the DOL, they are continuing to move resources to devote more staff to processing new complaints. The governor also authorized the use of overtime for this purpose.
With more unemployed people across the state, soup kitchens are preparing to serve even more meals.
The St. Vincent de Paul Place team in Norwich made changes to make meals safer. They only serve meals in travel containers and some of their older volunteers stay at home, but don’t slow down. They are preparing for even more people in the area to need help due to an increase in the laid-off workers.
“Many of these people could come to the food pantry once a month, they just needed a little bit to get over the hump,” said Jill Corbin, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Place Norwich. “Now that I’m without those jobs, we’ll see many more.”
St. Vincent de Paul Place is asking for more volunteers to work in the kitchen and volunteers to help prepare sandwiches. The meal center serves breakfast and lunch daily. At each meal people can also take a sandwich to go.
They are also asking for supplies including travel containers and sandwich bags. Pasta, pasta sauce and jelly are just some of the items that will help keep the pantry.
The ministry canteen normally works Monday through Saturday, however, a crowded-style meal will be served on Sunday in the parking lot of downtown Cliff Street. The meal is usually served at Lee Method United Church. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the meal could not be hosted in the church. Community and faith leaders came forward to host the community meal on St. Vincent de Paul Place instead this Sunday at 1:00 pm.
Cepeda said his family is doing well and are grateful that they don’t have to take advantage of the canteen’s services at the moment. Her family is worried about their colleagues.
“He wants everyone to know that this is serious,” said Cepeda, translating for his mother. “He hopes that he returns to normal because there are many families who depend on their complete control and now their life is completely turned upside down.”