Two children whose parents work in the fields in Ventura County in their family garden. Photo submitted.
by Kimberly Rivers
The women and men who harvest crops in the Oxnard Plain support a multibillion dollar industry in Ventura County. During today’s pandemic, with schools engaged in online learning and safe childcare not readily available, many farmworkers have been forced to leave their children at home.
“One of our biggest concerns since March is that the children are home,” said Judy Lucas of Ojai, who with her husband, Ted, formed Friends of Fieldworkers (FOF) in the midst of a 2013 structure fire in Oxnard that impacted two dozen families, to help farmworker families by providing direct assistance including food, home goods, toys and other items. FOF occasionally provides funds for rent and utilities as well. “Our motto is to befriend and support farmworkers and their families.”
The Lucases and one other person gather donated items and deliver to about 100 families in the Camarillo-Oxnard area. This includes picking up groceries at the fairgrounds every weekend.
“We need volunteers desperately,” Lucas said.
As the school year gets started under the shadow of the pandemic, a problem normally lessened when school starts is now being exacerbated.
“One young man is 13, he has a 9-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother,” said Lucas. “He is taking care of them all day. What I’m hearing is that the teachers are giving the kids more homework than normal . . . I don’t know how they are going to do school work and take care of the younger siblings.”
“Over half of our families have at least one child who is disabled,” Lucas continued. “Parents depend greatly on the schools. Many [of these kids] have no capacities. They go to school every day, while mom is in the fields . . . I’d love to hear what the school’s special education departments . . . are going to do for these children.” She told of a family with two children with cystic fibrosis. “Doctors told the mom there is no way they can go to school this year. They will die if they get COVID. What are they going to do?”
The schools have provided tablets, but Lucas said families are frustrated. “They don’t understand all the links and how to connect,” she said. “We have been focused on the children. What can be done for the children?”
FOF has delivered books, a basketball hoop, weights, a trampoline and jump ropes. The organization also teamed up with the Democratic Moms group and a Girl Scout troop in Camarillo to provide Legos. Donated gardening boxes have led to gardens expanding in the family’s yards, while butterfly and ladybug habitats were popular with the kids, who enjoyed watching the caterpillars and larvae eat and then transform.
The supplies have been beneficial, but many farmworker families still worry about their children left at home.
“They’re afraid of many things, but the two biggest things . . . They are afraid of ICE, they don’t want their children outside their apartments. And the parents are also afraid of getting picked up by ICE, then they wouldn’t get home to their children. Number two is COVID, getting sick and bringing it home to their kids.”
FOF is creating a few other programs, including connecting one family with children interested in art with an artist in Mexico who is leading the kids in art classes via Skype or FaceTime using art supplies provided by FOF. Lucas said they hope to expand that to more families and possibly offer music. “Drumming would be great.”
She said that right now, FOF is asking for books in new or gently used condition for very young children through teens and fabric for masks for the families. FOF is paying a seamstress $2 a mask to sew masks for the families.
Another program Lucas wants to get started is called Grocery Security Net.
“The families have very few security nets of any kind, they really do live from day to day . . . with something like COVID going on and on and on, the stress level is really off the charts, and that is dangerous in itself. They can get so stressed they are going to get sick.”
The program involves selecting a family most at risk and spending $1,000 toward the necessities that family uses every day: Food, gas, coins for laundry. The money that family would otherwise spend on those necessities can be saved. Lucas said one family was able to start saving to help them get out of the farmworker apartment and into a house to rent.
“I have high hopes for the family . . . to at least have some stress relieved.”
For more information on Friends of Fieldworkers or to donate, call 805-312-0579 or visit friendsoffieldworkers.org.