Former Field Hands Spearheading Relief For Florida Migrant Workers

Sep 27, 2017
Originally published on September 27, 2017 11:48 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

OK, over to Florida now - people in parts of that state are still reeling from Hurricane Irma, and that would include migrant farm workers in Florida, many of whom were left both homeless and unemployed. Disaster relief agencies are stretched thin. So in at least one town, it's former field hands who are spearheading the relief effort. Frank Morris reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Yelling) Get hot dogs, arroz, beans.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Pulling into Immokalee, Fla., it looks like there's some kind of little festival going on. Smoke is pouring out of big black grills. People are chatting over hot dogs and chicken. But this is no festival. People are here to get help, toiletries, clothes, clean water. It started small, in the mind of Fernando Sanchez, an electrician up near Tampa. Sanchez missed the worst of the storm there, but he knew that Irma would shred the rickety, old mobile homes farm workers live in, and that if it ruined the crops, it would crush their income.

FERNANDO SANCHEZ: Because when we were growing up, we were raised in the fields - and picking tomatoes. And I remember back then, when times were rough, we would have people that would come to the trailer park and donate us clothes, food, waters.

MORRIS: Sanchez wanted to return that kindness, and he knew that Immokalee, a place where thousands of immigrant workers live hand to mouth, was the place to go. Sandra Salez, standing in the shade near her children, says Irma tore open their trailer and cut off their only source of money.

SANDRA SALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ANGEL ALONZO: She said, it's - ever since the storm, she's been out of work. And she said, all the crop, with the water and the wind, has just went out.

MORRIS: That's Angel Alonzo, buddy of Sanchez, and he says this impromptu aid station snowballed fast.

ALONZO: People, they just came out of the blue. They seen us giving stuff away. They pulled up, asked if they can join us. They brought trailers full of water, drinks. One of the guys brought 50 pizzas from Little Caesars.

MORRIS: This is probably the most lively place to get help in Immokalee, but it's not the only one. FEMA is here, church groups too. But Alonzo says this aid station happened truly spontaneously.

ALONZO: Everyone here is not with no group, no charity organization, no nothing. Everybody's here on their own.

MORRIS: And with Florida's agricultural economy in tatters, farm workers in Immokalee will rely on outside aid, including pop-up charity, for some time to come. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Immokalee, Fla.

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