CENTRAL FLORIDA (May 21, 1998) -- Migrant farm workers community were hard hit by the Florida disasters,
which began with widespread flooding in December and culminated with some
of the most severe thunderstorms and tornados ever to hit central Florida
"They're really being impacted in a big way and not receiving the help they
Ron Patterson, executive director of the Christian Disaster Response
network. Patterson and his organization are working together with similar
agencies to extend help to those who sometimes fall between the cracks in
an overloaded system. Sister Gail Grimes, administrator of the Farmworkers
Association of Florida, agrees with Patterson.
"A lot of people said to us (in the African-American and Hispanic
communities in central Florida) 'you're the first people who've come to us
to see what happened to us,'" Grimes said. "Those are the people we're
trying to work with -- the forgotten victims." As many as 40,000 documented
workers, and maybe as many undocumented workers, have either lost their
jobs or their homes. An estimated 90 percent of the vegetation in central
Florida was lost to flooding. Some officials are saying it will be years
until the crop cycle returns to normal. For people whose meager salary
depends on healthy produce, storms can translate into
Some workers have been out of a job since right before Christmas, Patterson
said. Others have migrated north to the Carolinas only to find the
situation there isn't much better. "People have been working a limited
number of days and then a limited number of hours on those days," Grimes
said. "When it's a minimum wage job and you lose time in the heart of the
season, it's a disaster. Even people whose house haven't been effected by
the tornado have been effected by the flooding."
Bill Rhan, disaster response facilitator for the Florida Conference of the
United Methodist Conference, said the economics will hit everyone, even if
it's just with higher prices at the grocery stores. "It's a hidden
firecracker that's sooner or later going to explode," he added.
Grimes' organization is working with Operation Love, an interfaith effort
in the Winter Garden area of Orange County to help disaster survivors. One
of her biggest challenges, she says, is to convince some of the poor that
government help is available to all persons. She said she has more than one
person tell her they haven't applied to FEMA for aid "because I didn't
think they'd believe me that my house was damaged,'" Grimes said.
When Grimes set up two workshops in local churches to identify needs, 70
people attended. She's even designed flyers telling documented workers how
to get help and telling undocumented workers how to receive help from
sources outside the government.
Posted May 21, 1998
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