Episcopal Farmworker Ministry aims to serve workers, immigrant families

DUNN, N.C. (WTVD) -- Distribution day at the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry is bustling. Dozens of cars are lined up through the circle driveway that leads to the main thoroughfare. Hundreds of recipients show up twice a month -- like one group of women eager to speak about their experience.

"If we didn't have the food here, we would have to use the money to do other things. Still eat, but maybe less," said one woman who was translating for the Spanish-speaking group.

They work a variety of jobs: at livestock farms, meat processing plants and dairy and produce farms. The women's group volunteers on the property's co-op. They make soaps, shampoos and other products out of the plants.

" We want this to be our job, so we are working together to make the effort," said another woman.

According to Lariza Garzon, many immigrate here in hopes of a better quality of life.

"Many of them include migrant workers from other states or other countries. Those from other countries usually come with an H-2A Visa, which allows them to work with agriculture, and we work with families that live in North Carolina year-round," said Garzon, who is executive director of the ministry.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 150,000 farmworkers live in the state. They are part of underserved communities that are affected by barriers such as transportation, language, cost and isolation. Agriculture is a $70 billion-a-year industry in the state that is dependent on a healthy workforce. It's also one of the most dangerous occupations in the country.

"We have long-sleeved shirts from farmworkers because it's what protects them from pesticides and heat stress," Garzon said.

Donated from Episcopal churches across the state, clothes are distributed to farmworkers during outreach every Tuesday and Thursday. The ministry is also doing its part to get vaccination numbers up among Hispanics.

Irma Mendoza sat in the vaccination clinic waiting for her teen daughter to get vaccinated. She's seen the devastating effect of COVID-19.

"My husband's uncle passed away from COVID-19. My husband's dad also passed away with COVID last month," Mendoza said.
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