ORLANDO | It is a campaign that has been a Lenten staple for Florida Catholic readers for 14 years.
And this year, the publication hopes the annual event will again inspire readers to serve an important need for workers who toil in Florida’s sun while they gain a greater understanding of efforts of empowerment farmworkers undertake in their own communities.
The Long -Sleeve Relief campaign for farmworkers started in 2005, and its goal was to provide clean, long-sleeved shirts to protect farmworkers. And people have responded in droves. Boxes upon boxes of shirts have been delivered to farmworker agencies across central and south Florida.
The campaign also offers interested readers the opportunity to see the realities faced by farmworkers firsthand. Women groups, Knights, youth groups and individuals have shared how making personal deliveries to the farmworker associations opened their eyes to the poverty faced by those who put food on our tables. And the efforts of volunteers show they are not only willing to donate shirts, but also the time and distance. A member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples reported how she would haul donated shirts a couple time a week during the campaign.
Along with offering support, the campaign also hopes to provide education and awareness of issues facing farmworkers. Basic question such as, “Why do farmworkers need long-sleeve shirts?” Several years ago, one reader admitted when she first heard about the campaign she thought it was because farmworkers didn’t have washing machines.
But through the campaign she visited a local farmworker agency and got a valuable education about the dangers farmworkers face in the fields — exposure of the sun and pesticides. Chemicals that saturate the shirts make them unusable after several long days of wear and tear, so having new shirts available fills a critical need. Those concerns still exist today for the men and woman who work in the fields.
Dealing with pesticides branches to other issues of concern: Pregnant workers run the risk of giving birth to children with birth defects; if workers are not offered drinking cups in the fields, they might cut a pepper in half and use that as a drinking cup, which exposes them to pesticides that seeped into the vegetable.
And this year’s campaign will include an added dimension of awareness. The slogan this year is “To Clothe and Empower,” and shows a long-sleeve shirt coming out of a sewing machine. The impetus for this slogan and its art came from a story out of the Venice Diocese about the Women’s Sewing Project of Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee. The story talked about the sewing co-op and how it works as a microenterprise that is entirely run and coordinated by migrant women, many of whom are at home taking care of children and have limited job opportunities.
We would like to use this year’s campaign as a vehicle to shed a light on programs that allow members of the farmworker community to use their gifts and gain a sense of empowerment, while making money for their families. This is why the Florida Catholic has adopted the slogan for this year’s Long-Sleeve Relief campaign to be — To Clothe and Empower.
Farmworker advocates were asked to offer input on microenterprises like the one in Immokalee to profile in the paper. Look for stories on Campesinos’ Gardens, a garden project in several farmworker areas in Florida. The are also farming co-ops getting off the ground we hope to profile.
Readers are welcome to offer suggestions of microenterprises or co-ops that benefit farmworker families. To share information or to find out more about the Long-Sleeve Relief campaign, call Tammy Osborne at 407-373-0075 or e-mail email@example.com. Information is also online at www.thefloridacatholic.org/lsr.
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