What we’ve learned from a year with coronavirus is that frontline workers are indispensable. They keep us safe, fed, and cared for. They keep our economy moving, yet too often they live paycheck-to-paycheck. Deemed “essential” in the face of a devastating global pandemic, they now also face the constant risk of contracting COVID-19. In Southwest Florida, this is the story of thousands of farmworkers and their families in the town of Immokalee.
Most individuals and families in our community were excluded from federal COVID-19 stimulus payments and similarly do not qualify for other relief programs or social safety nets. And perhaps most disturbing, most are not offered paid time off or sick days -- even if they test positive or fall ill with coronavirus. As a result, direct social support is critical, not only to provide security to farmworkers and their families, but also to contain the spread of COVID-19 by making it economically possible for workers to stay home from the fields and recuperate.
Recognizing the unique vulnerabilities faced by the Immokalee community Misión Peniel set up a designated relief fund to alleviate the disparate impact of the pandemic on those who were directly affected by the virus. Since May of 2020, the Immokalee COVID-19 Emergency Fund has served as a lifeline to Immokalee’s COVID-positive residents struggling with the crushing economic and health-related impacts of the virus. The Fund has helped families pay rent, cover utility bills, and buy food, but its impact is felt community-wide: by meeting the urgent economic needs of COVID-positive essential workers, the Fund is allowing them to quarantine at home safely, curbing the spread of the virus.
Emergency assistance is distributed by Misión Peniel through a new partnership with Partners In Health, augmenting Mision Peniel’s existing network and infrastructure with additional administrative and outreach support in order to effectively distribute cash assistance as quickly as possible. Individuals in need of assistance are identified in partnership with the local clinic, Healthcare Network, which is conducting regular testing, as well as through outreach conducted by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Partners In Health. Misión Peniel staff, with the assistance of a network of volunteers through Partners In Health, completes a rapid intake process to confirm that the applicants live in Immokalee and have a current positive COVID-19 test result, then provides direct cash assistance on a sliding scale, depending on the size of the applicant’s family, as well as providing food and other material resources as needed.
SUPPORTING ONE ANOTHER
As cases rose through December and January, requests for assistance from the Fund increased nine-fold, and now we are in critical danger of running out long before the end of Immokalee’s harvest season as we face new more transmissible and deadly variants of the virus. This means more risk and exposure for workers, and more suffering for their families if we can’t help them fill the financial gaps of lost wages.
As a community, we are all connected – and we must answer the call to support our neighbors, those whose hands have kept our families fed. With your help, we can raise $1 million by May 1st for the Immokalee COVID-19 Emergency Fund to ensure that we can continue to serve families through the end of the harvest season.