Earthquake in Mexico and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico Affect FWAF Community Members
Hurricane Irma swept through Florida in early September, covering almost the entire state and leaving damage and destruction to various degrees throughout south, central and north Florida, including the Florida Keys. Local, state and federal agencies and relief organizations have been working at top capacity ever since the hurricane made landfall in the state, and churches, aid and civic organizations, and individuals wanting to help have been collecting donations and volunteering for disaster relief and response efforts.
The Farmworker Association of Florida staff have barely been able to come up for air, as we both receive and distribute donations and supplies; assist those impacted by the storm with accessing services; provide assistance and referrals; assess damage to families’ homes and belongings and their housing needs; and glean information daily about the long-term impact to the state’s agricultural production from the untimely onslaught of the storm. Staff members are compiling information to be able to report on the specific impacts to those in their areas.
In Homestead, for example, tropical fruit plantations lost a season’s crop as avocados and other tree fruits lay on the ground, stripped from the trees by the hurricane force winds, and okra plants were ‘burned up’ by the storm, both of which will have longer term impacts on farmworkers’ jobs.
In Pierson, the “Fern Capital of the World,” and an area of majority Hispanic farmworkers who work and make their living in the fern industry, a significant percentage of the fern crop was decimated at what would be peak season going into the holiday harvest time. (Volusia County news article)
In Immokalee, an estimated over 50 trailers, housing mostly local farmworkers, were seriously damaged or destroyed, leaving families destitute and homeless, some with young children to care for and with uncertainty for their future. (Naples News Article)
The Fellsmere community was not able to drink local tap water for close to two weeks, and in Apopka, some homes were without power for almost two weeks, meaning loss of food due to no refrigeration and forcing community members to spend money to eat out and to buy gas to get supplies.
But, as power and water are restored and emergency supplies are distributed, the real issues will be down the road, over the next few months as families struggle to get back on their feet. Between 70-90% of the state’s citrus crop was destroyed, meaning the loss of jobs for hundreds of farmworkers. (Citrus Industry article). Damage to nurseries, greenhouses, ferneries, and even some vegetable crops, leaves the future of jobs for farmworkers for the coming season – and even future years – in question.
For those wanting to know how they can best help FWAF help farmworkers in Florida, the organization has set up a special fund for donations to help farmworkers pay rent and utility bills in the aftermath of the storm and the hard hit taken by Florida agriculture. The funds will go to the areas and families with the most need, and it will be on-going until things can stabilize for farmworkers in the state. Anyone wanting to make a donation can do so by logging on to PayPal or by sending a check to the Farmworker Association of Florida, 1264 Apopka Blvd., Apopka, FL 32703 and designated for Hurricane Irma Relief Fund.
Throughout all our efforts in Florida, we are also grieving for the loss of life and security in our sister countries of Mexico and Puerto Rico. As much as we welcome contributions to help farmworkers in Florida, for those who are able to, we also support and encourage donations to help relief efforts to help those hardest hit by these devastating disasters.
In conclusion, we celebrate the resiliency of the human spirit, even as we forge ahead in strength, and with humanity and solidarity.