Beloved Riverside activist dies from COVID, highlighting disproportionate effect virus has on lower-income communities

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- A beloved community activist in Riverside who fought for issues in his neighborhood for decades has lost his battle with the coronavirus.

Morris Mendoza, 72, died on Jan. 26. His sister, Cindy Mendoza-Collins, said Mendoza feared his fight with COVID-19 was nearing its end, but he was at peace with it.

"It was terrible for us, because he kind of knew he wasn't going to make it out of this," she said.

Mendoza-Collins said her brother likely contracted the virus from a family member who became ill at work.

"He felt horrible," she said. "He went into the hospital for two days and then came home. We were hopeful that he was going to make it, but he came home for maybe two days and he had to go back because he just had breathing problems."

Mendoza grew up in a Riverside neighborhood known as Casa Blanca. Friends of Mendoza call him a quiet but passionate leader who never shied away from arguing for issues he considered beneficial to the area, or arguing against what he considered bad ideas. They also say his death highlights the disproportionate effect COVID-19 has on lower-income communities.

"When you're in a lower-income community, there are challenges with health care," said Mendoza's friend Riverside City Councilman Andy Melendrez. "When you're in lower-income communities, obviously, wages are an issue and you can't afford to live apart; you live together to make ends meet.

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"It is a community that I think is reflective of what other low-income communities face," Melendrez said.

Mendoza's death will leave a void in the Casa Blanca neighborhood, where he was a fixture at community meetings for decades. He was active in his church and with the Casa Blanca Community Action Group.

He also fought to bring back an elementary school to the neighborhood after it was closed in the 1960's during desegregation. In the decades since, parents have complained that their children have had to either walk or be bused to schools much farther away.

A new school is funded, but construction has yet to begin.

"It just makes me sad that he won't be here to see the opening of the school and the groundbreaking," Mendoza-Collins said. "But like one of my sons said, he will see it; he will have a better view than all of us."

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