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Advocates push for support of California farmworkers amid COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires

Experts often advise we stay indoors during a wildfire because of the poor air quality, but California farmworkers show up, rain, shine — or fire smoke.

“Needless to say it’s a disaster on top of another disaster,” said Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director for United Farm Workers Foundation.

UFWF is meeting many needs.

“Providing financial assistance. We are currently also doing food distributions. With the wildfires that’s been a bit challenging in the Salinas Valley this week. In fact, we had to close down one of our mask distribution events in Greenfield California,” she said.

The foundation is also collecting donations to purchase and deliver N-95 masks needed during fire season.

Before becoming a DACA recipient, Flor Martinez of San Jose picked grapes. She’s now a business owner and activist who uses her large platform to raise awareness about farmworkers and the undocumented community.

“I was bringing awareness to the heat, you know. Like, wow it’s over 100 degrees out there and our essential workers aren’t even being recognized the way they should be as essential workers,” Martinez said.

Then the wildfires broke out and she shared images of farmworkers picking grapes with a dark plume of smoke in the background.

“We can’t forget about the people that put food on the table,” she said.

She raised thousands of dollars she’s using to buy masks to protect workers from poor air quality and school supplies.

Martinez said many farmworkers are more concerned about their children.

“And they’re asking for basic school supplies like pencils, notebooks, binders, even backpacks to keep all their stuff organized.”

She plans to start making deliveries this weekend.

Farmworkers earn low wages, and most are undocumented and do not qualify for federal assistance, even when they pay taxes.

Martinez stressed that many are also afraid to speak up about unsafe working conditions because they fear retaliation and deportation.

“They’re not receiving hazard pay,” said Tellefson Torres. “They are really in a very vulnerable state,” she added. “Participate and let their congressional members know, their state representatives know, what are they doing to ensure that farmworkers are protected, not just now in the immediate but at all times.”

Anabel Munoz

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