Ximena Perez recalls the day she was packing corn at a stuffy packing factory in eastern Contra Costa County. The rolling process to seal the bags of grain made the warehouse feel like an oven.
“Sometimes the main boss forces us to work a lot faster,” she said, “but with the heat you just can’t.”
Then a trailer of cars and trucks arrived, and Perez watched the women and children crowd and scurry around the vehicles, unloading burgers, water, and frozen lemonade.
It was Hijas del Campo, or Daughters of the Fields, a group created by four working mothers who had met in early 2020 with a common generational story: their parents or grandparents had worked hard in the same heat as Perez to give their children a step forward. in the United States of America. It was their way of giving back, said Marivel Mendoza, co-founder and president of the organization.
What started as a guerrilla effort at the start of the pandemic to hydrate and feed farm workers has grown to include rent relief, food deliveries, and even pop-up vaccination clinics on farms in Pittsburg to Byron.
People often think of the central valley in relation to farmers, said Mendoza, “but they forget the areas here in Contra Costa”.
Perez, a seasonal farm worker and mother of three daughters, had never received support from an outside organization. But that day, the talkative women and children of Hijas flooded the ranks of the packing plant, asking how they could best help. Over the weekend, Hijas del Campo interviewed farm workers in eastern Contra Costa County. A concern kept popping up.
“When we pay our rent and all the bills,” Perez said, “sometimes our salary isn’t enough to eat three times a day.”
Between their daily work and their parenting role, the four mothers and founders reflected together. They were a powerful team: Mendoza is a branch manager for the elderly care company Kindred, Maria Valles-Guillen is a full-time mother, Dorina Moraida is a paralegal for Graham Adair and Amelia Villarreal is an account representative for the elderly care company. LifeTouch photography.
After reaching out to the community, support and donations from neighbors, friends, city council members and restaurants, including San Francisco’s Al Pastor Papi, poured in. The next time the trailer drove over the farms, they carried a cornucopia of goods. Mendoza, with her 2-year-old strapped to her back, helped distribute food, N-95 masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, laundry detergent, toothbrushes, jackets and clothes. socks.
A laborer, Luis Pimental, who was picking peaches at Frog Hollow Farm when the trailer arrived, remembers buying a dinosaur backpack full of pencils, coloring pens and paper for his 3-year-old son. He was struck by the generosity.
“Farm workers don’t get any attention at all,” he said. “We are forgotten.” Just showing up and caring, he said, “feels good to my heart.”
Hijas received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual vacation campaign that helps residents in need of East Bay. Donations will help support 56 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Hijas plans to use the grant to continue his work to help workers with everything from food and bills to school supplies.
As the group continued its work in the months following its founding, Hijas del Campo gained popularity and donations. They packed supplies late in the week for the coming weekend and started delivering food to the farm workers’ homes. For Thanksgiving last year, turkeys and stuffing and mashed potato ingredients were delivered to 100 families. Later, the computer company Lenovo donated 28 laptops to the customers of Hijos del Campo. At Christmas, Perez’s daughters all got bikes from the organization, which they immediately took out.
The organization was in constant contact with its customers. When Perez and his family contracted COVID-19, quit working and started racking up rents back, Hijas del Campo lent himself to help with the bills and dropped off groceries at their home. Without Hijas del Campo, “we probably wouldn’t have been able to pay off the debt,” Perez said, and “because of them we have no food shortage in our house.”
When the vaccines became available in early 2021, Hijas del Campo began making appointments, translating and helping Spanish speakers who were struggling to navigate government websites.
Perez was vaccinated in February with support from Hijas del Campo, and later the organization helped pilot the county’s first clinics on farms with support from Kaiser and La Clinica de la Raza. In the shade of the white tents, the workers could be photographed. However, fearing a loss of wages, they could not stop working during the post-vaccination observation period. The volunteers therefore followed them to the fields.
The organization had grown from a group that handed out masks and hand sanitizer in September 2020 to a pop-up vaccination clinic for their first anniversary.
“We were in disbelief,” Mendoza said. “You can’t help but suffocate yourself. “
But even today, the four women still carry packets of bottled water in their cars, just in case they see a worker by the side of the road, in a field or a packing factory, on a hot day. .
Share the spirit
The Share the Spirit vacation campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, brings relief, hope and opportunity to East Bay residents by funding non-profit programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
How to give
Go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate or send the coupon by mail.