Some FL migrant workers are 'forgotten' survivors

BY KAREN BOTHAM | CENTRAL FLORIDA | May 21, 1998


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

in February.

"They're really being impacted in a big way and not receiving the help they

deserve," said

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

starvation.

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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