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Michigan's Agricultural Employment Liaisons Step Up to Deliver Critical Support to Critical Workers
June 11, 2020
State, local partners support migrant and seasonal farm workers and their families
Thursday, June 11, 2020
CONTACT: Mike Murray, 517-275-1820
LANSING, Mich.— It’s a sad, but poignant, bit of irony – farmworkers and their families are in need of food.
No one knows this better than the Agricultural Employment Liaisons (AELs) who work with Michigan’s migrant and seasonal farm workers year-round. Working as part of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s (LEO) Workforce Development team, these liaisons provide employment and recruitment services for agricultural employers throughout the state.
Agricultural Employment Liaisons make a daily impact on the lives of these critical infrastructure workers who help keep Michigan’s store shelves stocked and sustain America's food supply. Being on the front lines also gives Liaisons the opportunity to assist farm workers and their families when help is needed most – like during a global pandemic.
Group Effort Makes a Difference in Van Buren County
Longtime Liaison, Sandy Jimenez, had been contacted by a farm labor contractor to help 27 seasonal farm worker families in Van Buren County.
After a long winter with minimal work – compounded by COVID-19 travel restrictions – the families needed food and personal care items. Jimenez had been instrumental in assisting them the previous year with employment service information and lists of support services available in the area. She also reached out to Love INC, a non-profit based in Pullman, Michigan, to assist with the effort.
Jimenez and Love INC Director Martha Cerda immediately put together a plan of action to ensure the families had the food they needed. They organized a team of volunteers who assembled 27-plus food boxes and personal care items for the families. The families also received COVID-19 prevention information and lists of various support services, including Michigan Works! One-Stop services.
‘’I truly am blessed to work along with some amazing folks that love our diverse community. I admire the work of mi gente! (my community),” Cerda said. “The folks I am serving with currently want to feed people, and our donors are stating the same thing – this is not the time to have anyone go without food.’’
Strict safety protocols were in place for Jimenez and the others to follow when conducting outreach during the pandemic. To meet social distancing requirements, a truck delivered the items to the workers in the field where they lined up individually, six feet apart. To further avoid the risk of a large gathering, deliveries were scheduled over two days; families with children received the first shipment, and single workers received their items the next day.
“Migrants need service as they’re critical workers, and farmers need help protecting the workers,” said Jimenez. “So we’re fortunate to be able to help both parties.”
“Much Needed Support” in Monroe County
In Monroe County, Agricultural Employment Liaison Miriam Ramos and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Migrant Program Specialist Rudy Flores proved that, even in the age of COVID-19, it's possible to offer critical help to others safely.
After loading their vehicles with food and personal care items – all acquired through the Emergency Food Assistance Program – Ramos and Flores drove to an apartment complex that serves as housing for migrant and seasonal farm workers who work for Four Star Greenhouse and Ruhlig Farms.
They set up two tables – one for personal protection equipment (PPE), and the other for the distribution of coats, boots and other clothing.
The farm workers also received information regarding Census 2020, COVID-19 and programs available through LEO and MDHHS. They were then given three grocery bags, which were donated by Kroger and Meijer, and walked through a line where they could select food and other available items.
For everyone’s protection, social distancing guidelines were followed, and other safety precautions were taken. Volunteers wore PPE, and a bullhorn was used to ensure that directions and information were clearly communicated at a safe distance.
“In a matter of hours, we were able to serve a total of 92 workers and their families – providing much-needed support to these essential workers,” Ramos said.
Mobile Food Truck Benefits Oceana County Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers
“It feels so good to give back to those who give so much.”
That was Jo Estrada-Guerra’s reaction after she and fellow Agricultural Employment Liaison Rose Rangel assisted with a mobile food truck event in Mears, Michigan. Estrada-Guerra and Rangel distributed 20 boxes of food to migrant and seasonal farm workers who were either working or quarantining at home.
The boxes contained a variety of food and personal care items. Some of the workers had just arrived from Texas, and the food for these workers and their families was much needed.
Staged by United Way of the Lakeshore-Oceana County, the event required all participants to follow strict safety guidelines and hygiene protocols due to COVID-19.
While volunteers felt the event was a success, the need, unfortunately, exceeded the available supply. They hope to continue this service in the weeks ahead as similar events are planned throughout Oceana County this summer.
“We’re thankful organizations have partnered with us to provide this service,” said Estrada-Guerra. “The farmers and their families are always so grateful and happy to see us, even if we come with empty hands. When we can give them something, like a box of food, their reactions and gratitude are so heart-warming and sincere.”
Community organizations are doing great work throughout Michigan, but the needs are great. All Michiganders can put their time and talents to good use by volunteering. To learn more about local programs that need support, visit Michigan.gov/Volunteer.
The mission of Agricultural and Foreign Labor Services is to engage employers to enhance employment and training opportunities and improve quality of life for workers within Michigan’s migrant and seasonal worker dependent industries. To learn more about these services – and others available through the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity – visit Michigan.gov/LEO.