gardens, Florida Catholic

Paola Amezquita, right, who heads the agroecology project for the Florida Assocation of Farmworkers, teaches Marquel English, Cornelius Stanley and Markel Ashley about what plants are ripe to pick as volunteer Sarah Downs observes. (DAVID GONZALEZ | FC)

Time for long-sleeve relief

ORLANDO | The Long Sleeve Relief is a campaign that has been a Lenten staple for Florida Catholic readers for 15 years. 

This year, the publication hopes the annual event, from Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26 to Holy Thursday, April 9, will again inspire readers to serve an important need for workers who toil in Florida’s sun while they gain a greater understanding of efforts of empowerment farmworkers undertake in their own communities. 

The campaign works to raise awareness of the dangers farmworkers face in the fields — exposure to the sun and pesticides. Chemicals that saturate the shirts make them unusable after several days of wearing them, so having new shirts available fills a critical need. Those concerns still exist today for the men and woman who work in the fields.

The Long Sleeve Relief campaign for farmworkers started in 2005, and its goal was to provide clean, long sleeved shirts to protect farmworkers. And people have responded in masses. Boxes upon boxes of shirts have been delivered to farmworker agencies across central and south Florida.

Last year, the publication launched the slogan “To Clothe and Empower,” which shows a long sleeve shirt coming out of a sewing machine. The motivation for this slogan and its art came from a sewing co-operative and how it works as a microenterprise that is entirely run and coordinated by migrant women, many of whom are at home taking care of children and have limited job opportunities.

Susan Wheat, a member of the Legion of Mary prayer group associated with the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Cocoa, volunteered for the Long Sleeve Relief campaign. She helped by donating shirts by the hundreds, which has grown to the thousands, which literally weighs a few tons. Wheat and her fellow parishioners conducted a parish-wide collection. And it was an effort that was well received.

She said a special moment from the program happened when she found the empty boxes she had placed for donated shirts were packed with shirts. “Finding the boxes suddenly filled with clothes was amazing. We have a very generous parish. It was so special to see that you do all this planning and that it works. Some of the shirts still had hangars on them,” she said, laughing about the dedication from the donators.

By participating in the campaign, volunteers become aware of the dangers of sun exposure and pesticides for workers in the field. Wheat said she is empathetic to the struggles the vegetable pickers constantly endure, and understands the importance of fresh produce. She said she respects those who work in the fields.

Blessed Sacrament volunteers delivered shirts to the Farmworker office in Apopka, as did members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Orlando.
Trace Trylko, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul in Orlando, said the organization is proud to be a part of the annual campaign.

“Last year, we doubled our collection and this year we hope to do even better,” he said, adding the society has more locations as drop-off sites. “In addition to collection points at our St. Vincent de Paul Orlando Thrift Stores in Apopka and Clermont, we’re so pleased to have more of our affiliated Conferences participating this year. Our Vincentians at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Deltona, St. Gerard Catholic Church in Edgewater and St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Orlando are now a part of the Collection Drive, too.”

“St. Vincent de Paul Orlando and our Vincentians across the Diocese of Orlando grow in spirituality through service to our brothers and sisters in need and taking part in the Annual Long Sleeve Relief Drive is just another way we put our faith into action,” Trylko wrote in an email to the Florida Catholic. “We’re blessed to be able to contribute. While we understand the importance of collecting as many long sleeve shirts as possible, I hope this annual drive raises awareness of the working conditions experienced by our brothers and sisters who labor in the fields, too.”

Education and awareness of farmworker issues are ways the campaign works to go beyond offering shirts. This year we are keeping that theme of “To Cloth and Empower.” Stories this year will include one to focus on the changing landscape of the citrus industry and another that highlights a project working to preserve stories from aged farmworkers. Readers are also welcome to offer suggestions of microenterprises or co-ops that benefit farmworker families.

To share information or to find out more about the Long-Sleeve Relief campaign, call Tammy Osborne at 407-373-0075 or e-mail tosborne@thefloridacatholic.org, or visit www.thefloridacatholic.org/lsr.