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Community Foundation Aids Farmworkers During Crisis

Community Foundation provides farmworkers with monthly rent checks

Workers spread out across a farm on San Andreas Road in Watsonville during a recent strawberry harvest. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

With a continuing housing crisis on the horizon due to Covid-19, residents from nearly every background and region of the county are facing dire straits. 

But perhaps the hardest hit have been farmworkers—many of whom were struggling long before the pandemic hit. 

“[Farmworkers] are making little to no money, which means they can’t pay rent, they can’t buy food and on top of this, some are afraid of being deported,” said Ann López, executive director of the Center for Farmworker Families. “The coronavirus pandemic has created panic in this community.”

The Center for Farmworker Families is one of many organizations that have recently been aided by the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County’s (CFSCC) Covid-19 Relief Fund. As of Aug. 19, the foundation has awarded a total of $8.1 million in grants, with 100% of the money going directly into the community.

“The virus has devastated this county,” said foundation CEO Susan True. “We are honored to be in a position to help.”

In South County, CFSCC has been focusing on those who cannot access unemployment or federal CARES Act funding. Many farmworkers are in that position, True said. On top of that, they are more susceptible to getting sick, as many live in close quarters and carpool to work.

The foundation has partnered with a number of donors, both groups and individuals, to award workers with monthly rent checks, as well as provide them with resources and access to community services.

“What I’ve noticed is that a lot of these people have never asked for help before,” True said. “They are hardworking individuals with multiple jobs. But especially in the past few years, they have been afraid to ask for support.”

Other organizations that have been working with CFSCC to help farmworkers include Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance, Monarch Services, the Community Action Board, Community Bridges, Catholic Charities, Second Harvest Food Bank, Loaves and Fishes, and more.

“It has become a true network of volunteers, banding together to make sure the need is met,” True said.

López expressed her gratitude for CFSCC and everyone who has helped her clients during this difficult time.

“All the joy and relief I’ve seen on people’s faces … the fact they’re going to make it another month without worrying about rent. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart,” she said.

This month, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved a temporary eviction moratorium in unincorporated parts of the county through Sept. 30. The decision came less than a week after the Judicial Council of California voted to end the statewide eviction moratorium by Sept. 1.

The Watsonville City Council will also weigh an eviction moratorium at its Aug. 25 meeting.

True said that the foundation is “very concerned” about future evictions and is keeping a close eye on the situation—especially in Watsonville, which has the highest share of coronavirus cases and the highest unemployment rate. 

“None of us know what will happen,” True said. “We don’t know about the long term right now. We’re just trying to bring people together and fill in the gaps.”

According to True, the majority of funding for the Covid-19 Relief Grants comes from everyday residents. More than $2.5 million has been donated by individuals and families.

“I think that goes to show the generosity of this community,” she said. “We’re only able to do what we do because of everyone working together.”

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