Human rights organization works to help farmworkers amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 9:00 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 21:00:38-04

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Farmworkers are still out working the fields to keep American grocery stores stocked.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a human-rights organization fighting human trafficking and gender-based violence in the agriculture industry.

But their current mission is to educate farmworkers on the Coronavirus.

The organization has closed their office as a Coronavirus precautionary step, but their phone lines remain open for workers who need any assistance and COVID-19 information.

"We're seeing that Immokalee is like dry wood in the middle of a fire, once this sparks not only will it affect Immokalee, it'll also affect all of Southwest Florida," said Lupe Gonzalo.

Gonzalo is one of the organizers at The Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Before joining the organization, Gonzalo spent twelve-years working in the agriculture industry harvesting tomatoes and other vegetables.

Her focus now is helping farmworkers get the assistance they need.

"What we're doing is sticking educational flyers around the community, at laundromats, at stores, and farmworker housing camps," said Gonzalo.

The organization is also using its community radio station to spread information and bring in health experts to answer COVID-19 questions.

"I've been told to limit my time outside to stay protected," said Euitquio Martinez.

Martinez is a farmworker in Immokalee, and the information he's getting could save his life and potentially those around him.

That's why the organization is translating information from English to Spanish, Creole, Indigenous Dialects, and art for workers who cannot read.

"If the workers stop working, stop harvesting, basically the country would collapse," said Gonzalo.

While many are practicing social distancing, Gonzalo says many farmworkers here don't have that option.

"Some workers live up to ten or twelve in one dwelling," said Gonzalo.

Collier County has given the organization some supplies, including hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks.

Gonzalo says the farms they are partnered with have also taken steps to protect their workers.

The farms have added more buses for transportation to give workers social distancing, as well as sanitizing the buses after each use.

But while Coronavirus is a health concern for some, others fear the loss of work.

"Right now, my work has gone down, and I'm worried about my bills," said Jose Gonzalez, a farmworker in Immokalee.

This week the Collier County Sheriff's Office, Collier County Emergency Management, Immokalee Fire Control District, and local nonprofits collaborated with Lipman Family Farms to place portable washing stations in Immokalee to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers says they are taking additional steps to help bring more aid to Immokalee.

To learn more about the organization, click here.