PHOTOS Cold facts: Farmworkers struggle to eat, pay bills after Florida freezes

Freeze hard on farmworkers

Many out of work after recent freeze

— Since freezes began decimating Florida crops, life has been a struggle for Maria Gabriela Chaires and her family.

Her 17-year-old son asked if he should drop out of high school and get a job, but she won’t let him.

Chaires, 37, and her 77-year-old mother, Juana Galvan, work in Immokalee’s packing houses and they, like many other farmworkers, have been dealing with drastically reduced hours since the cold weather hit this year, first in January and again in mid-December.

“I have three children and I am both mother and father at the same time,” Chaires said. “Right now, things are very hard. It’s especially sad because (of) Christmas ... but the little money we have we have to use for things other than gifts.”

All the money they have goes to rent, utilities and food, she said.

Chaires and her mom stood outside the Guadalupe Center’s soup kitchen on Thursday, attending a press conference organized by the Farmworker Association of Florida and waiting for the 11:30 a.m. lunch at the soup kitchen.

Her three children, ages 17, 14 and 2, were all in school. They’ve lived in Immokalee for nine years and this was the first year they really struggled, after freezes decimated crops in early 2010, she said.

Right now, she and her mom can find some work here and there, but only a day or two a week at best.

They worry that if the freezes continue, money will get tighter and tighter.

“Right now, things are very hard. It’s especially sad because (of) Christmas ... but the little money we have we have to use for things other than gifts,” Maria Gabriela Chaires said.

“Farmers always announce the damage they have, but not many people talk about the workers,” said Tirso Moreno, Farmworker Association of Florida general coordinator. “It’s important to take notice of what’s happening here in Immokalee.”

Like Chaires and her mother, many people are working, but no one is working full time, said Oscar Otzoy, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Normally they might work eight or 10 hours a day, but now many can only find work for five hours.

The Coalition estimates there are about 15,000 to 20,000 workers around the Immokalee area, and all of them have been affected by the freezes, Otzoy said. The group works closely with growers Pacific and 6-L’s, and according to them they’ve lost about 50 percent of their usual production.

After last growing season’s terrible freezes, many workers didn’t return to Immokalee because they were afraid it would happen again, Otzoy said.

Those that did return are working as much as they can and saving, because they’re concerned that more freezes might come.

About 25 percent to 50 percent of the residents at the Immokalee Friendship House, a homeless shelter, are farmworkers, said John Bianco, the shelter manager.

“We’ve seen less and less work over the last couple of weeks,” Bianco said.

The shelter filled up and went over capacity when the cold snap hit, but in recent weeks the numbers have been down, he said. Sometimes that means that people have given up looking for work and left town.

“(Work is) real sporadic,” he said. “There’s nothing reliable, consistent. It’s a couple of days here, a couple of days there.”

The shelter gives out blankets and warm clothing when cold hits, and serves food to the hungry during hours when the Guadalupe Center’s soup kitchen is not open — evenings and weekends.

“We’re just hoping that we don’t get hit again,” he said. “... We’re just hoping that it’s not going to be a pattern, because that would put the people in really bad shape. It would be terrible for the growers, for the migrant workers, the whole town.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers estimates there are about 15,000 to 20,000 workers around the Immokalee area, and all of them have been affected by the freezes.

At the Guadalupe Center’s soup kitchen there was an increase in the number of people who came in for food during the cold weather, but not nearly as much as last season’s freezes, said Terrie Aviles, client services director. This year, the most people came in during the second week of December, she said. They did five seatings one day, serving more than 200 people.

Eleazar Gallegos, 25, stood outside the soup kitchen’s glass door, peering in, as volunteers set the tables and got the food ready.

Gallegos has lived in Immokalee for about two years, migrating north at times when there is more work up there. On Thursday morning, he went looking for work and at about 6 a.m. someone told him a bus was coming to pick up workers. He waited an hour but the bus never showed.

He is four payments behind on his rent, which is $50 a week, Gallegos said. If he doesn’t pay back the $200 he owes soon, he will be homeless.

Nearby, Rigoberto Gomez, 25, also waited for the soup kitchen to open. He’s been working one or two days a week picking tomatoes, but making a fraction of what he usually does.

Normally, Gomez would make $150 to $180 per day, he said. These days, it’s more like $50 on a good day and $25 on a bad day.

Some people have left, he said, heading north. But he doesn’t know what they’re doing for work.

“I come here to eat, because when there is no work there’s nothing else I can do,” he said.

If he has no money, it’s the only meal he eats all day.

Agencies helping farmworkers in need

■ Guadalupe Center, 658-1999, www.guadalupecenter.net

■ Immokalee Friendship House, 657-4090, www.stmatthewshouse.org/ifh.html

■ Amigos Center, 657-4090, www.amigoscenter.org

■ Farmworker Association of Florida, 657-8263, www.floridafarmworkers.org

■ Coalition of Immokalee Workers, 657-8311, www.ciw-online.org

© 2010 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 32

HarryNuts writes:

"All the money they have goes to rent, utilities and food, she said."

wELCOME TO THE CLUB!

Once the work dries up, they will all be forced to pack up their 5 kids and move elsewhere.

SkeeterBeater writes:

$150 / $180 Dollars a Day. Not bad for no Education , No Speak de English.
Guess the Lesson to be learned is Save for a Rainy Day Gallegos.
Got some nice Rims on that old Chevy Pickup

Spock_is_logical writes:

Tax free?

Davidh239 writes:

in response to SkeeterBeater:

$150 / $180 Dollars a Day. Not bad for no Education , No Speak de English.
Guess the Lesson to be learned is Save for a Rainy Day Gallegos.
Got some nice Rims on that old Chevy Pickup

And the rest gets sent back to the family they left behind.

Free health care, Christmas gifts at several volunteer organizations, bags of food here and there etc.

FreshFace writes:

It breaks my heart when families just pick up and leave. You wonder why the mirgrant children aren't doing well academically? They are torn out of school mid year and relocated at least once (most 2x) a school year. It's devastating to the child and it's hard, as a teacher, to get them up and running with the rest of the class when they arrive.
I wish people, rich or poor, would really use birth control if they haven't the time nor the money to support their children. It's not necessary to have so many children. WHEN will the cycle break?

FreshFace writes:

I have to say that for that $150 a day they break their backs, much more than a laborer, and work in pesticides. I'm not sticking up for illegals at all, but it is Christmas, so have some compassion. Yes, they should save for a rainy day if the rent it only $200 a month, but you have to realize these people come from NOTHING and have no concept of saving. I won't go into it, but there is a real scientific reason for poverty above and beyond not making enough money. Family, friends, and giving comes first. If a friend or family member is in need they just give what they have. Saving is foreign to them.

FADEC writes:

Be careful out there in the parking lots of Walmart, and Kmart people. The crime rate is about to go up.

scottfishfox writes:

Just go back to Mexico... I'd take 150 a day., low rent, free food... Just go back...

voltihs writes:

These people shouting go back to Mexico will be the first to scream bloody murder when food prices skyrocket. Who the hell do they think is going to do this kind of work, Wharton School of Business grads. Get real you idiots.

Ruger writes:

An incredible amount of money is sent back, why does NDN ignore that fact?

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3574...

Mexico is a major recipient of remittances, sent mostly from Mexicans in the United States. Remittances average around U.S. $21 billion per year, and are the country’s second-largest source of foreign currency, after oil.

Aqua writes:

This is heartbreaking, but these people come and live on the edge to send money home so when hard times hit, they haven't saved (as one person pointed out, it is foreign to the lifestyle), they can't collect unemployment if they are not legal, and so they are destitute and need help. I am not against helping people and have done so, but the reality is that the growers should be helping them, as of course they know who is legal and who isn't and have no compunction about luring them to the area as cheap labor when things are good. This is a common- sense (as someone else pointed out) reason why this is an unsustainable way of life. It is predictable that at some point the crop will fail. There has to be a plan, such as unemployment is for citizens, who by the way pay for it (i.e. are forced to save for the inevitable rainy day by the system). These people are outside the system and suffer when something goes wrong. It is a real reason why this turning a blind eye cannot continue! It is terrible for the children, but it is totally predictable and preventable. The parents brought them into this situation. I am glad there is a soup kitchen and wish them well, but something must change. This can't go on!

Manners writes:

in response to FreshFace:

It breaks my heart when families just pick up and leave. You wonder why the mirgrant children aren't doing well academically? They are torn out of school mid year and relocated at least once (most 2x) a school year. It's devastating to the child and it's hard, as a teacher, to get them up and running with the rest of the class when they arrive.
I wish people, rich or poor, would really use birth control if they haven't the time nor the money to support their children. It's not necessary to have so many children. WHEN will the cycle break?

I was wondering myself why people who can't afford families continue to have children...

okay writes:

in response to Ruger:

An incredible amount of money is sent back, why does NDN ignore that fact?

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3574...

Mexico is a major recipient of remittances, sent mostly from Mexicans in the United States. Remittances average around U.S. $21 billion per year, and are the country’s second-largest source of foreign currency, after oil.

Absolutely agree. Politicians will tax Americans before they tax foreign remittances.

Pitiful.

HarryNuts writes:

They want pity and the perks of citizenship (i.e. medical care for births and work injuries, foodstamps when they can't buy food, toys for christmas because they can't afford all the kids they produce)
..Yet refuse to make the necessary steps to BECOME lawful citizens.
They also refuse to be RESPOSIBLE adults by making a conscious decision to not have kids they can't feed.
We keep helping the poor and they do not help themselves.

I an also tired of being threatened by these guilty farmers with "$8/lb tomatoes if we hire legal workers"
This problem will never go away...

flamom73 writes:

This zog/jog rag is relentless in printing this kind of garbage.

Ruger writes:

in response to ImperialBrainSlave:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Godwinned in the first sentence....lol

Why are you giving them a scapegoat? Sending your money to another country and begging for more is quite lame IMO.

You are correct about this administration's handouts to unions/corp called a 'stimulus package'. It has been a disaster compared to GWB's TARP program.

Looks like you are spending to much time on KOS, DU and Huffpo. You should really get out more often, we shouldn't reward criminals.

titanbite writes:

What part of the James Brown tune are they confused about?

"Welcome to America!"

The street's of this country are NOT paved in gold and this isn't and never has been the land of milk and honey,to make it in America one must be tough,versatile,educated,innovative,thrifty,yet,not penny foolish,prepared to accept risk and fight against the odds to succeed,if you lack any of these attributes,and many more,you should have stayed home.

All of us are engaged in a life struggle in this country,even the millionaire and billionaire is fighting to maintain their wealth,everyday,it's not out of the ordinary to see a wealthy person one day and the same person forced into bankruptcy the next,although,the struggle may consist of a different adversary,it's still a daily struggle nonetheless.

Coming to America has never held any guarantee for success,if one finds themselves failing to provide for one's own existence,it's time to move on.

A decision that's made by many natural born,or naturalized citizen's in this country everyday.

Why would ANYONE be considered ANY different?

titanbite writes:

in response to FreshFace:

It breaks my heart when families just pick up and leave. You wonder why the mirgrant children aren't doing well academically? They are torn out of school mid year and relocated at least once (most 2x) a school year. It's devastating to the child and it's hard, as a teacher, to get them up and running with the rest of the class when they arrive.
I wish people, rich or poor, would really use birth control if they haven't the time nor the money to support their children. It's not necessary to have so many children. WHEN will the cycle break?

When the authorities get off their butt's and arrest the employer's of illegal/undocumented worker's,simple.

okay writes:

in response to ImperialBrainSlave:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

scape*goat:
a : one that bears the blame for others
b : one that is the object of irrational hostility

I'm afraid you have it backwards. Americans are the "scapegoats" for every problem encompassing illegal aliens.

It's OUR fault they're here, it's OUR fault their country is a failure, it's OUR fault that they can't feed their families, it's our fault that the immigration system is "broken", it's OUR fault that they don't learn English, it's OUR fault that they live one big lie.

EVERYTHING is our fault, and illegal aliens JUSTIFY their criminal behavior by BLAMING US.

No one is buying it any more. Our sympathy & generosity has been exploited & depleted.

Americans are the victims of illegal alien culture and we are THEIR "scapegoats".

Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

BTW, people from all over read & comment here, and the sentiments are the same for most Americans across the nation.

Bicyea writes:

Some people have left, he said, heading north. But he doesn’t know what they’re doing for work.

They went up north to try to undercut the local AMERICAN Construction workers. They won't find jobs this time of year. Construction shuts down because of weather and the Americans who they see as over-paid are collecting unemployment because THEY paid their TAXES and worked on the books!

But if they hang around sucking off the generosity of Americans they can jump right in on those jobs come spring!

skyhook1fl writes:

File a claim against BP. I'm sure the oil spill and Bush have something to do with this.

Mannie writes:

$25-$50 a day in bad times sounds OK to me. If these people are truly suffering, then churches should reach out to them and help them. Agriculture nearly always has some kind of difficult times due to bad weather, so the people in agribusiness and the wealthy landowners should join the churches in helping any farmworkers who are truly suffering.

The auto workers in Mexico make about $25 a day.

grouper25 writes:

When did NDN get bought out by La Raza? 10% of americans are without a job and NDN is worried about the plight of illegals who entered this country illegally and most likely a criminal record in Mexico to boot.
The Majority of Americans want these illegals deported and out Federal laws enforced. Some bloggers referred to them as the Fourth Reich! talk about some fools stuck on mslsd mentality!

furball writes:

The children don't do well academically because many of them have low average intelligence due to pre, peri and post natal care. Lack of stimulation in the early years, poor nutrition, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, illiteracy are all contributing factors. The low performing schools have a population of children with low average intelligence. It is a fact that no one wants to address. We will just go on blaming teachers and not addressing the root of the problem. It is not racial because poor whites, blacks and others born into poverty are subjected to being born behind others. They will struggle academically because they can't learn at the same rate as an average intelligent child. Unless we address the contributing factors we will not change the outcome.

napleschik writes:

I stood in line at Walgreens the other day and waited while an associate translated the label on the prescription bottle. I watched a lady at WalMart pay with food stamps and wic coupons, then pull out a wallet with 25 or more credit cards and a roll of cash to pay the balance. My son had to go to the emergency room and sat with a room full of people who were coughing, lord knows what he was exposed to. When are we going to solve the problem? The system is clearly broken and then we want to give 130 million dollars of money designated for medicaid to a private business?

Kyser851 writes:

O.K. Maybe it's me, but 50 dollars on a good day, and 25 dollars on a bad day (let's not discuss the 150 to 180 when he really works). And he is still behind on his 50 dollar a week rent. Where is the money going then? Sorry I can't feel sorry for anyone when I hear those kind of numbers. You should of had savings then if you were making 180 a day and only had to pay 50 a week in rent. Oh wait, it was all being sent back to Mexico for family. No, I still don't feel sorry. Call me a hater, but I just can't feel sorry for these people or anyone else who cries wolf when things get bad and the system doesn't put them at the front of the line.

Kyser851 writes:

O.K. my bad before everyone starts correcting me. Two different people in the story. I'm still not buying the story. They all work at the same place or in the same field so the money thing just doesn't add up. You can still call me a hater..

Jaimee writes:

I'm guesing all these residents of Collier County,within the United States of America, have all the proper documentation and no employer in this county is knowlingly hiring an illegal worker. Churches & community agencies aren't giving charitable dollars to criminals are they? Please say it ain't so?

napleschik writes:

in response to Jaimee:

I'm guesing all these residents of Collier County,within the United States of America, have all the proper documentation and no employer in this county is knowlingly hiring an illegal worker. Churches & community agencies aren't giving charitable dollars to criminals are they? Please say it ain't so?

HA HA HA YATHINK?

newzhound (Inactive) writes:

Ms. Chaires has lived in Immokalee for 9 years, her mother is 77 and two of her children are 14 and 17?

She is both father and mother yet has another child that is now 2 years old?

37 years old, not married, three children, unskilled laborer...not a formula for security.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers needs to stop the 'nobody talks about the workers' nonsense.

Many in Immokalee entered this country illegally and are fortunate to receive the kindness of strangers dispensed through the charities.

bornintheusa writes:

I'm very sad to hear so many people are being hurt by this poor economy, but I'd like to know just how many of these workers are here LEGALLY? I'm guessing very few.

Where's the sympathy for the AMERICAN worker displaced by the ILLEGAL workers?!? Check out: www.numbersusa.com for the real facts on illegal immigration. Sign up for them to fax on your behalf free faxes to your state and federal legislators. We must stop allowing illegals to work and live in the US. So many of them are on food stamps and WIC. Sick of footing the bill for these freeloading, illegal invaders and their anchor babies!

bornintheusa writes:

in response to napleschik:

HA HA HA YATHINK?

Support E-Verify to be required for ALL Florida employers and this problem will resolve itself in a few months. No job, no magnet for illegals, see ya!

SUPPORT SB 518 and HB 691. Call your STATE senator and state rep and ask them to support the E-Verify bill!
Jobs for Americans and legal residents, not illegals!

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