Residents who live in the San Fernando Valley gathered last Saturday morning at what has become their meeting spot --under the freeway overpass near Ritchie Valens Park. They arranged the long group of cars that traveled in a caravan formation to a strawberry field in Oxnard.
For the third time in recent weeks, they set out to directly deliver supplies and messages of support to farmworkers. They honked their horns, cheered and applauded the farmworkers as they arrived into the quiet fields where 60 workers were bent down picking the fruit.
The grassroots effort to salute these workers has quickly blossomed, filling a void to publicly acknowledge farmworkers as “essential” front line workers during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those in the caravan, who come from all walks of life, have quickly bonded with a shared desire to help those who toil in tough conditions in the fields and to point out that those who put food on our table are essential everyday, but have been in harms way during the pandemic.
Each stop has been a learning experience for those who’ve joined the caravan. They got started just by bringing donations that they supplied themselves.
“We now have a growing group of supporters and our caravan is really growing,” said organizer Iggy Navarro. “We now know what to buy, and the field workers have expressed their gratitude. Each time we go, the experience is different. This time, one worker wanted us to deliver a message that we were able to capture on video and I translated for him:”
In the video, the farmworker said:
“This is to everybody out there who think we are criminals. We are not criminals. We come to work hard and to earn our money.”
Now, as word has spread and others have offered to help by donating money, the group is able to purchase more items. Some people in the caravan bring their own donations. This time around, a soccer team wanted to get involved and they donated soccer balls and other goods.
Some in the caravan brought bars of soap, hats and boxes of food. On the day of the caravan’s visit, quite unexpectedly, one worker from another field brought some of the produce that was grown in nearby fields that she worked that she was able to bring over and donate.
“We see people trying to help each other,” said Navarro, a Pacoima resident.
“Each stop into the fields has brought a new experience. “We noticed that in the strawberry fields, the workers were older and as we go we are learning more about what the workers really need.”
During this visit, one member of the caravan took a photo of a worker’s worn shoes, weighed down in mud and debris that illustrated their great need.
“I have posted the photos online and now, people have started to donate shoes and clothing, long sleeve shirts — they need all sizes,” the caravan member said.
Another photo illustrated the way their work is accounted for as farmworkers wear papers pinned to them that are used as punch cards to keep track of the amount of produce they pick and deliver.
The caravan plans to go back to the fields of Oxnard and Santa Paula after the Memorial Day holiday. One member of the caravan will carry donations to the fields of Fresno.
Those who want to join the caravan will gather on Thursday, May 28, to accept donations, and will leave on Saturday, May 30, at 10 a.m. For more information contact: Ignacio “Iggy” Navarro (818) 939-3707.