Forgotten farmworker towns receiving help following Irma thanks to CIW’s expanded relief efforts…

A trailer just north of the town of LaBelle, in Hendry County (Florida’s largest citrus producing county with over 25 million trees planted), lies crushed under fallen trees and Irma’s overpowering winds.

While much of the media coverage of Hurricane Irma’s fury has focused on Florida’s large coastal cities, Florida’s poorer, mostly agricultural, inland communities were among the hardest hit, and the slowest to recover, following last Sunday’s massive storm.  

Last week we brought you news of Irma’s impact in Immokalee.  Today, we are happy to report that — thanks to the tremendous generosity of people across the state and across the country — we have been able to stabilize the Immokalee community’s immediate needs through a remarkable collaboration among the CIW and several other local and national organizations.  CIW members and volunteers worked around the clock to collect, bag, and distribute emergency materials, from food and water to clothing and tarps, and those efforts have, to a significant extent, softened the immediate pain of Irma’s blow in our hometown community.  That is not to say that all is well in Immokalee — far from it.  There remains much to be done to truly recover from the storm and rebuild our town in a way that can withstand the stronger and more frequent storms that are sure to come.  But relief is well underway, and our thoughts can now begin to turn to the longer-term recovery process.

But some farmworker towns were even less fortunate than Immokalee, struck with the same force by Irma but without the benefit of an established, experienced community organization like the CIW to help pick up the pieces in its aftermath.  LaBelle, Florida’s citrus capital just 25 miles due north of Immokalee, is one of those towns.  Here is an excerpt from a CNN report, entitled “Hurricane Irma: Three fourths of one Florida county still without power”:

A LaBelle area road washed away by Hurricane Irma. Photo by Andrew West, Ft. Myers News Press
… Jessica Gonzalez is back in her Florida neighborhood of LaBelle, but the heat is keeping her outdoors.
Her home was damaged by the storm and has no power. She celebrated her 20th birthday this week by waking up in her car with her husband and 2-year-old daughter.
They cook outside and sleep in their car…
… With no power and their house caving in, fellow LaBelle residents Bob and Tara Hahn have moved their 10 children into their oldest daughter’s two-bedroom house.

During the storm, a giant tree crashed into their home, sending whipping rain pouring inside. There are no answers on when the power will be back.

Officials told them it’ll take weeks, they said. As they wait, they have 17 people living under one roof… (read more)
LaBelle, and in particular its farmworker residents, who live predominantly in the town’s most vulnerable housing, were hit with Irma’s full force:
A trailer lies in ruins following Hurricane Irma last Sunday in LaBelle, Florida.

But on Monday of this week, a team of CIW members and volunteers were able to organize a caravan of emergency supplies and head up State Road 29 to their neighbors in LaBelle:

A CIW relief team delivers supplies to families in LaBelle, Florida, affected by Hurricane Irma.

The CIW team was welcomed with open arms, the much-needed supplies filling the hole left when Irma blew through the community and left countless residents without power, without running water (as a signifiant number of LaBelle residents are on well water, which requires electricity to power their pumps), and many without basic shelter.  But thanks to CIW members and volunteers, and to the generosity of untold numbers of people like you who opened their hearts in the wake of Hurricane Irma, some of LaBelle’s worst hit residents received care packages of food, water, and clothing this week that will help tide them over as the lights and water slowly return to their rural streets.

Meanwhile in Immokalee, an 8 year old’s birthday party went forward, in spite of the storm.  

Remarkably, after this young lady, along with her parents and two sisters, lost their trailer to a massive fallen tree, her father spent the week not only picking up the pieces of their own lives, but also helping to organize and distribute supplies to other families in equally desperate need.  Amidst this moment of devastating loss, the commitment of this family to the Immokalee community — and of the Immokalee community to this family — truly embodies the resilience at the heart of Florida’s farmworker towns, a resilience that has only grown stronger in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Thank you, again, for all your support during these trying times.  Without the generous donations from countless people across the Fair Food Nation, Irma’s blow would have been a truly devastating one for thousands of Florida farmworkers.  

Check back again soon for more news from the field, and for updates from the Campaign for Fair Food front, where campus organizing is beginning in earnest as life returns, day by day, to normal here in Florida.