Keeping the Dream Alive in the Midst of COVID-19 through Emergency Disaster Services
In the last weeks of June 2020, The Salvation Army received a call from Lapeer County Health Department. A group of about 100 seasonal farm workers in Imlay City were quarantined after some of them tested positive for COVID-19. They spoke only Spanish, had limited access to health care, and were unable to secure adequate food and other basics due to language and transportation barriers. Living in close quarters, they were at risk of becoming infected by their fellow workers. On top of that, they continued to work 13-hour days Monday through Saturday.
“Think about it,” says Lydia Sanchez-Roat, Volunteer & Events Coordinator & Emergency Disaster Services for The Salvation Army Genesee/Shiawassee Regional Command. “These agricultural laborers are essential. They keep our economy running – they help us get our food! All day under the hot sun, these guys are working in full gear: hats, gloves, pants, boots, and masks. When Emergency Disaster Services heard about what was happening, we viewed it as a great opportunity to fill an essential need.”
To help this vulnerable group of workers, The Salvation Army utilized its Spanish speaking staff for clear communication and its partnership with Moffett Food Service for easy transportation of food and supplies. Every day for the last 4 weeks, the workers have received dinner, water, Gatorade, snacks, and hygiene kits. For the first 2 weeks, a group of 100 was served, and a group of 60 was served the last two weeks. Nurses came each Friday to provide medical care and testing. Salvation Army staff also provided spiritual support through prayer and worship.
“We want to feed their souls, too,” says Sanchez-Roat. “Even if it’s just saying hi to them in their language, that’s uplifting. They work so hard and can’t really go anywhere. Even when they used to go into town, they say they would feel out of place. So whether we’re singing or providing toothbrushes or giving them a book in Spanish, we are giving them hope. It’s been humbling to get to know these men.”
Serving the workers this way for several weeks is no small task, so the Port Huron Corps Community Center and Echo Grove camp have gotten involved with preparing food as well. Through these efforts, the farm workers have received what they need and have been able to continue working. This is vital, since many of the workers have family in Mexico that they support. For some, it has also been a lifeline keeping their dream of citizenship alive.
“They are here on visas right now, and they are saving money and chasing the dream the rest of us do,” says Sanchez-Roat. “A better life for yourself and your family. A full refrigerator, a home for your kids. They are working harder than anyone I know for it. And every time they open a food box or bottle of water, they are reminded that The Salvation Army is supporting that pursuit.”