Advocacy & Activism, Health & Safety, Housing

Migrant Worker Camp Opens

From SonomaNews.com, Emily Charrier-Botts, Index-Tribune Entertainment Editor, 5 Sept 2011.

Last year, workers at the camp on West Agua Caliente Road, built a shrine. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

Last year, workers at the camp on West Agua Caliente Road, built a shrine. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

Sonoma, CA — As the harvest season hits high gear, migrant laborers flock to the Valley, seeking work picking winegrapes in the rows of vineyards. During this time, La Luz Center steps up to provide housing, medical care and enrichment opportunities to help ensure the workers are safe and healthy during their time in Sonoma.

“Of course, their health is very important to us. For some, it’s the only time during the year that they get this type of care,” said Yvonne Hall, executive director of La Luz. “We try to have something going on a couple of times every week.”

The camp officially opened last weekend, welcoming 32 workers to stay in eight trailers set up on land provided by St. Leo’s Catholic Church. The camp also has a mess hall, shower trailers, a laundry area and a meeting space where lectures and classes can take place. Last week inspectors from Sonoma County signed off on the camp, the last hurdle before the vineyard workers were able to move in this week when the first wave of harvest launched at Gloria Ferrer.

“It’s the first year the manager told us the inspector said everything was perfect and signed off immediately,” said Maricarmen Reyes-Larios, who is coordinating the camp for La Luz. She said the total cost to operate the camp ranged from $30,000 to $35,000, which includes everything from storing the trailers in the off season to paying for permits.

“That includes paying the manager that is there 24 hours, it includes the PG&E and garbage and all other utilities,” she said, adding that the Vadasz Family Foundation contributed $15,000 to help cover expenses.

La Luz invites the community to come see the camp during a welcoming barbecue, set for Thursday, Sept. 15, from 6 to 8 p.m.

“Anyone who wants to come can RSVP by calling La Luz (938-5131) so we know how much food to get,” Reyes-Larios said.

Typically the camp opens in August, but with the unseasonably low temperatures this year, the harvest was pushed back, with many wineries only starting last week. Wineries contact La Luz to book a place for their employees for the season.

“We’re trying to get the word out that we do have openings,” Hall said.

During the season, the workers can live in the camp, getting up early to pick grapes and returning in the afternoon to rest. During the evening, La Luz schedules enrichment opportunities for the men, which range from classes to build their English language skills, to presentations by substance abuse counselors who can talk to the residents about addiction.

“We’ve been concentrating on smoking, which is a very big issue with the vineyard workers,” Hall said. “We remind people how dangerous it is to smoke and help them with options to quit.”

La Luz also works closely with the St. Josephs Health System to provide access to medical and dental care. The Mobile Health Van makes weekly visits to the camp, providing teeth cleanings and physicians to check the workers’ medical concerns.

La Luz also ensures the workers have healthy food, providing breakfast and lunch during the workweek. The Brown Baggers also cook up meals that are delivered to the camps twice a week, and other La Luz volunteers will also be providing meals twice a week.

“They also have their own cooking facilities,” Hall said. “We also have our soup kitchen here at La Luz on Fridays, which they are welcome to come to.”

Without the camp provided by La Luz, many migrant workers would have no place to spend the harvest season. Many workers take to living in their cars or in make-shift camps around the creeks. The La Luz camp provides safe and sanitary housing during the harvest season.

Vineyards and wineries interested in booking workers into the camp should contact La Luz at 938-5131.

Source: SonomaNews.com, “Migrant worker camp opens” by Emily Charrier-Botts, Index-Tribune Entertainment Editor, 5 Sept 2011.

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