Florida Catholic's Lenten campaign collects and new and used long sleeve shirts for farmworkers to use in the fields.

It’s time to collect Long Sleeve shirts

Readers enlisted to donate to annual Lenten campaign

ORLANDO | In the past 13 years, the Long Sleeve Relief campaign for farmworkers has done more than just collected tons and tons of shirts.

The Florida Catholic started the campaign in 2005, and its goal was to provide clean, long-sleeved shirts to protect farmworkers. And people have responded in droves. Boxes upon boxes of shirts have been delivered to farmworker agencies across central and south Florida.

But the other goals of the campaign were education and awareness, including answering the basic question of, “Why do farmworkers need long-sleeve shirts?” Several years ago, one reader admitted when she first heard about the campaign she thought it was because farmworkers didn’t have washing machines.

But through the campaign she visited a local farmworker agency and got a valuable education about the dangers farmworkers face in the fields — exposure of the sun and pesticides. Chemicals that saturate the shirts make them unusable after several long days of wear and tear, so having new shirts available fills a critical need. Those concerns still exist today for the men and woman who work in the fields.

And that concern might also extend to youths working in the fields, depending on the actions of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency. An alert to this issue was sent to the Florida Catholic by Jeannie Economos, of the Farmworker Association of Florida in Apopka, who serves the association as the pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator. The concern is that the EPA is looking into reevaluating a 2015 rule that tightened safety standards for farmworkers, including a requirement that anyone working with “restricted-use” pesticides in agriculture be at least 18 years old. Those types of pesticides — which are used industrially in businesses such as landscaping, farmworking and pest control — include arsenic and methyl bromide.

Dealing with pesticides branches to other issues of concern: Pregnant workers run the risk of giving birth to children with birth defects; if workers are not offered drinking cups in the fields, they might cut a pepper in half and use that as a drinking cup, which exposes them to pesticides that seeped into the vegetable.

The campaign also offers interested readers the opportunity to see the realities faced by farmworkers firsthand. Women groups, Knights, youth groups and individuals have shared how making personal deliveries to the farmworker associations opened their eyes to the poverty faced by those who help put food on their tables.

Along with shirts, there are also people who generously donate to the campaign. Financial donations go a long way for the farmworker associations who use the funds for critical needs among the people they serve. By sending donations and making personal visits, everyday people put Catholic social teachings in action and sparks the Florida Catholic to continue the Long Sleeve Relief campaign for another year.

The popular drive officially begins Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14 and runs through Holy Thursday, March 29. The focus of the drive is to donate clean, used or new men’s and women’s cotton long-sleeve shirts that can be used in the fields. Drop-off locations are available within all three dioceses covered by the Florida Catholic, including Farmworker Association offices and the three locations of the Orlando-based Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The society will coordinate delivery of the shirts to the Farmworker Association of Florida in Apopka. (Go to www.thefloridacatholic.org/lsr for  drop-off information.)

For more information on the Long-Sleeve Relief campaign, contact Tammy Osborne by email at tosborne@thefloridacatholic.org, call 321-527-3116 or call toll free 1-888-275-9953.

Donations can be made by check, payable to: Florida Catholic and mailed to: PO Box 4993, Orlando, FL 32802-4993 or new this year, an online fundraising page at can be found at youcaring.com/longsleeverelief.