Distributing masks and information helps maintain a healthy workforce, preserve food supply chains and keep incomes flowing for individuals and businesses.
The offer of 8,000 resuable/washable masks for the benefit of agricultural workers from Florida Department of Health was appreciated by Arturo Lopez, Executive Director for the Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations (COFFO). How to manage the distribution was the next question.
“We felt the best way was to go to the farm, nursery, and packing house employers,” he said. “We reached out to the County Extension for assistance and she made it happen.”
The “she” was Teresa Olczyk, County Extension Director, UF/IFAS Extension, Miami-Dade County.
The “it” was a well-organized drive-through distribution at the UF IFAS Extension office, Friday, July 3, 2020. Olczyk created a flier to spread the word via email, personal visits, and social media, and in turn contacted Dade County Farm Bureau to help with the effort. Instructions to the employers were straightforward. “You need to provide the name, location and type of farm operation (vegetable farm, nursery, packing house, etc.) and a number of employees you need masks for. Please send one representative of your agricultural operation to receive these supplies. Please remain in your vehicle and the masks and signs will be placed in your trunk.”
The signage referred to was information on how to prevent contracting COVID-19 at work, home, and in the community.
“We had it on our Facebook Live,” said Tyra Phillips, Executive Director of Dade County Farm Bureau.
Farm operations responded directly to COFFO where staff and volunteers assembled bags, tagged them with the name of operation, and brought them to the extension center.
“We also included information about Census 2020,” Lopez added. “We want agricultural workers and employers to understand the importance of being counted.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who strongly advocates for the local agriculture community, partnered to host the event. She included a flier listing assistance available from her office and other
resources. “This is a special effort we are making in South Dade, working together with the extension service and COFFO,” she said as Channel 4 and Telemundo cameras rolled. “Our agriculture workers are always essential.” When questioned about the July 4th holiday weekend curfew set by the County, her remarks included concern about continued shortage of testing and tracing. “This has become a hot spot and is part of a targeted focus. The curfew and mandatory masks are a protection against the surge. Everyone needs to take personal responsibility.” She took time to speak with each agricultural representative who came through.
Almost sixty operations responded and Olczyk fielded calls that morning. “That was Marion Nursery,” she explained of one call. “He doesn’t have a computer so he couldn’t respond by email.” They were able to accommodate him and some others.
Dulce Cordova was among those who drove through. When the pandemic hit, Evergrace, Inc., was not set up for selling their beautiful orchids on-line, yet they, like so many small businesses, have had to adapt in response to the COVID-19 impact. Their change in approach has helped them stay open. “Thank you for doing this,” she said after collecting her bag. “It has been a big help.”
Contributions to COFFO can be made on-line or by sending a check to 778 W. Palm Dr., Florida City, FL 33034. Tel: (305) 246-0357; Fax: (305) 245-2445 . To learn about the different programs COFFO is involved with, go to http://www.coffo.org ; Email: Inquiries@coffo.org
For more information about The UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County, go to