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ELOY — The organizations Hispanics in Philanthropy and Justice for Migrant Women have teamed up to establish a farmworkers’ COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund.

Through the fund, Pinal Hispanic Council received three grants to help farmworkers and their families in Pinal County as well as Santa Cruz County and Cochise County.

The first grant awarded to PHC is of 1,000 face masks available for distribution to farmworkers throughout the three counties. The intent is to make personal protective equipment available in an effort to protect farmworkers against any potential risks related to COVID-19. All the masks must be distributed by Nov. 1.

“The charge is to work with the farms and the individuals who do the contracting for farmworkers and get those contacts made and then be able to distribute to the contractors or the farms the masks to be used,” Pinal Hispanic Council CEO Ralph Varela said. “The second part of that is that they did allow us part of that 1,000 to be able to provide those masks to organizations and staff who are working with farmworkers and their families.”

The second grant awarded PHC $25,000 to financially assist farmworkers and their families with food necessities, utilities, clothing, rent assistance and more. The funds are available until the end of December and will be distributed to Pinal, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties.

“That’s kind of the type of assistance that they would like to get those funds out to,” Varela said. “We’ve always provided assistance to farmworkers and their families for counseling services. We’ve always worked with the schools on their initiatives, so I know throughout those years we’ve had impact with farmworkers. I think now because of COVID and because of the area that we’re in and that we serve now we have the opportunity to get these resources out into those three counties where normally we would have any type of resources of this kind to get out.”

Varela noted that PHC has not sent out funds but will begin to do so this month.

Additionally, PHC will receive 500 face masks for farmworkers’ children.

An estimated 2 to 3 million farmworkers help bring fruits, vegetables and other crops to homes across the nation. Of those millions of workers, an estimated 900,000 are women.

Despite all their contributions, farmworkers are subjected to substandard working conditions and often live in the shadows of society.

Farmworkers are excluded from some of the most basic labor protections and are at risk of some unsafe working conditions from wage theft, severe occupational injuries from heavy machinery as well as exposure to harmful pesticides that can have serious health consequences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many people throughout the United States, and rural communities can be hit the hardest due to their demographics and the lack of resources.

“Some farms — it’s all mechanized so you don’t really have a lot of farmworkers there,” Varela said. “But there’s still some contractors who have farmworkers who are working the fields.”

According to the Justice for Migrant Women website, fashion designer Mario De La Torre teamed up with the organization Hispanic Heritage Foundation and the National Center for Farmworker Health to launch a new initiative called #Masks4Farmworkers.

The initiative is designed to raise the awareness and appreciation of farmworkers. Over 1.2 million masks have been awarded through the #Masks4Farmworkers project.

Varela mentioned that the use of face masks out in the field has become more common now.

“The contractors that I’ve talked to, they say that there’s just a lot of concern,” he said. “I think there’s been at least one farm that had an outbreak of COVID, so I think the contractors are really much more cognizant as we all are from when we first started in March to where we’re at now. I think everybody is more cognizant about the need to have safety precautions.”

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.

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