Help for Farm Workers

July 26, 2008 12:01:56 AM PDT
As a lack of water continues to impact valley farm workers, their communities are doing what they can to help. The drought has led to lay-offs for many of the farm laborers making a tough economy even tougher.Hundreds of Mendota residents lined up Friday for their chance to fill a cardboard box with meat, produce, and canned goods. Many like Mindy Betancourt aren't working after being laid off by their employers. "I got laid off, my husbands working farm labor right now, its tough," said Betancourt.

More than 500 people signed up in advance to get free food. The giveaway was organized by the Community Food Bank, but non-profit agencies and the city of Mendota chipped in to purchase additional food. "The lack of jobs is lack of food and the worst thing you want to see is kids and people who don't have anything to eat on the table," said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.

The situation is much the same in neighboring Firebaugh. This weekend is the annual cantaloupe round-up, but the drought has affected this year's cantaloupe crop, and community groups that use the festival to raise money are anxious about how the work shortage will affect attendance. "The economy's bad. And people aren't going to spend that much money. Work's late and the valley's dry. We're going to have to wait and see," said vendor Isabel Gonzales.

As people look for a reason to celebrate in Firebaugh, and others in Mendota reach out for help, some are finding a reason to give back during the tough economic times. Ignacio Gutierrez owns a recycling business in Mendota. He said business is good because more people are choosing to recycle to get extra cash. Gutierrez donated $3,500 worth of pork for Mendota's food giveaway.

In addition to the food giveaway, Mendota residents also learned about other assistance programs offered to them. Non profit organization Proteus has been awarded a $10,000 dollar grant to help farm workers pay their rent and electricity bills if they've lost work because of the drought.

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