VIDEO/PHOTOS: Farmworkers struggle to find work after crop-killing freeze

Salvation Army helps Immokalee workers

The Salvation Army puts together food boxes ...

— Usually, it’s their job to put food on people’s tables.

But a lack of work due to the recent crop-killing freeze has Immokalee farm workers in need of some outside assistance.

For the past month, Isaias Lopez has worked one day a week picking tomatoes in Immokalee.

“With the little work that we have, the little help helps us a lot,” Lopez, 22, said in Spanish. “We thank them for their goodwill.”

To help Lopez and others like him, the Salvation Army of Collier County opened a food distribution center in Immokalee that will provide food to farmworkers for six weeks.

Inside the center, adjacent to the The Salvation Army office in Immokalee, volunteers filled about 1,500 boxes with perishable food, including rice, cans of vegetables, peanut butter and milk.

On the first day of food distribution, about 120 farmworkers picked up food boxes.

Lopez is one of about 850 farmworkers who went to the Salvation Army for assistance last week.

Lopez, who has been a farmworker for two years, said he hasn’t been able to send money home to his parents and brother in Mexico since the freeze.

“We hope it gets better because it’s infuriating,” Lopez said.

Lopez’s girlfriend, Angelina Santiago, 30, said in Spanish the support farmworkers were getting in a time of need was very good.

Santiago struggles to feed her three children, ages 16, 11 and 10 and pay rent with the $50 she receives for one day of work.

“It’s really hard, really hard,” Santiago said.

On Tuesday morning, the couple walked for an hour and half to pick up their food boxes.

Gene McAvoy, a multi-county vegetable agent with the University of Florida/IFAS in Hendry County, said it would be another month before work improves in Florida.

About 70 percent of the crops were destroyed and the crops that survived aren’t really growing, McAvoy said.

“It’s going to be a really short season,” McAvoy said. Season usually ends in May.

“I’m glad to hear that the workers are getting some assistance,” he said. “It’s sorely needed.”

More than 850 families signed up for the program, the maximum the Salvation Army could handle with the resources it has, Chris Nind, director of development and community relations, wrote in an e-mail.

The Sign-up period for food was held last week. Recipients provided an identification and a farmworker identification. Each worker received a booklet with six vouchers for food for six weeks, said Maria Ramos, administrator of the Salvation Army in Naples.

Across South Florida, growers are also afraid to lose their farmworkers who may be going north or returning back home, McAvoy said.

Agencies assisting in the Salvation Army project are the Emergency Services Collaborative of Immokalee, Harry Chapin Food Bank, Collier Harvest and Six L’s.

Immokalee Helping Our People in Emergencies (IHOPE), a nonprofit, long-term disaster recovery team that helps people prepare for and deal with disasters, is working with other agencies to bring in additional food supplies over the next few weeks, according to a prepared statement.

Later this week, IHOPE has arranged for 11 palettes with 6,000 Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) to arrive in Immokalee from Orlando, Rick Heers, assistant pastor at Friendship Baptist Church and executive director of IHOPE, told Ramos Tuesday morning.

Immokalee Housing & Family Services has been giving regular food distribution to about 125 families, including its residents and other families in the surrounding neighborhood of Eden Park, one of the poorest areas in Collier County. Families can receive groceries once a week.

“The need of necessities has been increasing significantly,” said Tricia Yeggy, Immokalee Housing & Family Services spokeswoman.

About two months ago, the organization became a partner with the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

The organization is helping families avoid becoming homeless, Yeggy said.

Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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