For those grieving the loss of a loved one, a business, job or other life-altering experience due to COVID-19, stop reading here. I mean it. It’s not applicable to you. It may upset you.
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COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. In so many ways. No doubt about it. I’d like you to consider these stories for new light on the subject.
Manuel is getting a Mother’s Day card. He is a single father since his wife succumbed to severe mental illness years ago. He has five children, aged six to seventeen. He maintained a steady job, shopped, cooked and did many of the tasks a mother often does for her children. They lived a relatively comfortable life in a one-bedroom apartment behind a larger home. When he came down with COVID-19, he did his best to isolate from his children. He couldn’t eat, and after eleven days he went to a local emergency room, severely dehydrated. They kept him for a few hours, tested him for COVID-19 and sent him home with Tylenol. He tested positive. Soon their food ran out. His main concern was his children’s food supply.
Another complication was school closure and his middle child, 13, with autism, requiring a full-time caregiver during school hours. With closed schools and COVID-19 in the house, the caregiver was forced to quit because she lived with her at-risk, aged mother.
A further complication was his landlady, living in the front house, who screens all the visitors to his home: social worker and would-be helpers. She refuses to take the $1500 check for his rent from a non-profit, only accepting cash, which it cannot give. Her home in front is lavish with trees, flowers, bushes and herbs; she forbids him from having a small garden bed to grow his own food.
A second family is Amelia’s. She is a single mother with four children, ages five to fourteen. The eldest, a son, has a very rare genetic disorder. Not expected to live past four months, he is 14, still alive and tenderly cared for by his mother and siblings. He only smiles. His mom is able to support her family by working in the fields while her four children are in school. Usually. Seven weeks ago, she was laid off. She can only work a few hours now and then.
This third family I have not seen with my own eyes but heard of from a reputable community source. They live under an older mobile home. The family is cold at night and hot during the day. The family “upstairs” may provide extension-cord electricity for a portable heater or fan. They charge rent for these accommodations. Affordable housing is so scarce in Ventura County, anyone who would normally report this dangerous living arrangement is afraid the family will be thrown out on the street where they’d be charged with loitering. True for one family, probably for others.
Have you guessed by now that these are fieldworkers in California? I’m sure their stories are repeated over and over again wherever fruits and vegetables are grown.
Of the 30,000 plus fieldworkers in our area, most of them still leave their homes by 5:00 a.m. or earlier to make sure we eat and they can support their families…mostly without masks, and certainly without ideal distancing and hygienic conditions [with the exceptions of some very conscientious farm owners]. Imagine waiting in line for a porta-potty during your 20-30-minute break, having to decide between feeding or relieving yourself!
Meanwhile, with all schools and most daycares closed, fieldworkers’ children are either with a sitter or under the care of an older sibling. One 13-year-old boy I know well is home alone all day with his 11-year-old sister and two-year-old brother. Parents have very limited childcare options.
Friends of Fieldworkers, Inc., is a nonprofit charity in Ventura County that befriends and supports fieldworkers in many ways. With help from Food Forward, Local Love, V.C. Democratic Socialist Association, the Social Justice Fund of Ventura County, a local Girl Scout troop, Conejo Community Outreach, churches including Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church in Camarillo and All Saints Church in Oxnard, and individual donors, Friends of Fieldworkers, Inc., provides masks, food, diapers, clothing, books, toys, school and art supplies and moral support. One of our current projects is matching “grandparent-type buddies” to fieldworker children to read to them or to be read to. Or to simply listen to them talk about their day. We provide children with LEGOs and other building supplies because of LULAC’s LEGO-raiser.
Another project is building 4’x8’x1′ garden beds in fieldworkers’s back yards and providing soil, amendments, gardening tools and even seeds and plants. Cilantro, chilis, grapes, tomatoes, beans, carrots, broccoli, Yerba Santa, mint, lettuce, marigolds… This provides families with a shared project, exercise, sunshine and fresh air, and the joy of growing their own organic food. Fieldworkers feed you and me but seldom have access to affordable, fresh, and organic (unsprayed) food of their own.
COVID-19’s Shining Light. Overnight, our government recognizes fieldworkers as “Essential.” There are over 1,000,000 fieldworkers in the U.S. of whom 50-75% are undocumented. Essential AND “illegal.”
We must insist on justice for ALL.
We cannot un-see.
We cannot un-know.
Our recent interview with Ali Noorani: Growing A Better System
Our recent book: Friends of Fieldworkers. True, Personal Stories of Triumph, Tears and Invisibility. A Chronicle of Love, by Judy Fisk Lucas, 2019.
NEW! April 2020. Spanish, full-color version seen below.