Jose Ramirez will help distribute relief boxes with PPE for farmworkers this weekend. Photo credit: Mikey Williams.
Written by Edward Smith
Farmers, laborers and food processors have been competing with a flurry of other industries and public agencies to grasp the limited amount personal protective equipment coming into the country.
In response to the needs of those in the ag industry, Nisei Farmers League banded together with boxer Jose Ramirez, his training camp, Top Rank Boxing, ESPN and the Bautista Medical Group to bring much needed protective equipment as well as supplies to farm workers throughout the Central Valley.
On Friday, Saturday and Monday, volunteers from the Nisei farmers League and Ramirez himself will be delivering 1,000 boxes of goods containing N95 masks, toilet paper, rice, beans and hand sanitizer to families of farm laborers, according to Manuel Cunha, Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League. Originally from Avenal, Jose Ramirez is the unified World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization light welterweight champion.
“We’ve been working on trying to get the masks for the employers to get to the employees because of the critical infrastructure that ag is,” Cunha said.
Securing masks has been no easy feat. Cunha and his group scoured the state looking for clean masks. They found a location in Los Angeles where the group purchased the 10,000 masks they are delivering to families. Masks that once cost $1.25 now can cost as much as $5, said Cunha.
Nisei had been working with two different California companies to secure masks coming from China. Minimum orders begin at 1 million, and even then, the Trump Administration enabled FEMA to seize “certain scarce or threatened medical resource to domestic use,” meaning shipments have been taken as they arrive.
“You may have ordered a bunch of and paid for a bunch of N95s, but FEMA is going to take them when they come to customs,” said Cunha.
In the past, manufacturers such as 3M dedicated large portions of respiratory masks to agriculture to maintain food safety standards. As much as 90% of what they received was redirected to health care, said Ryan Jacobsen, president of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.
In place like food processing facilities, new masks have to be worn daily. The cloth masks that retail workers have had to resort to are unacceptable because of OSHA and USDA rules.
By August in the Central Valley, there can be 211,000 seasonal farm workers. Across California, there could be as many as 627,000 seasonal workers.
The 1,000 boxes come as much needed relief for workers. The California Rice Industry Association donated 4,000 pounds of rice to be distributed. About 2,500 pounds of beans were also donated.
By the time many farmworkers end their shifts, Cunha says, store shelves have been picked clean, only to be restocked at night.
Many laborers struggle to secure essential items for their families.
Those at Nisei have worked with many local and statewide grocery store chains to make goods more available to farm workers who largely get off work in the afternoons.
Roman Rodriguez, assistant grocery manager for R-N Market in Parlier said that they have limited the goods on the shelf throughout the day to ensure there is a constant supply.
Other grocery stores in Mendota, Reedley and Sanger have been receptive to the idea accommodating stocking hours for farmworker schedules.