A Gratitude Caravan

Southern Californians Thank Local Farm Workers

Part of the Regular Column, Silver Linings

Powerful expression of gratitude, inspired by Iggy Navarro in Oxnard, California – where a vast amount of America’s fresh produce is growth and harvested. All photos by Francisco Castro.

Farm workers, those men and women who pick lettuce, fruits and all that produce that keeps flowing into supermarkets, are now more “essential” than ever and they haven’t stopped working throughout the pandemic.

And unlike many other workers, they don’t have the choice of staying home to do their work.

Thinking about this and seeing how little appreciation they get, Ignacio “Iggy” Navarro decided to put a simple post on a Facebook community page in late March. In the post, he asked people to join him in taking some water to farm workers in Oxnard, about 60 miles from his home in the San Fernando Valley.

“I put up a photo of farm workers to see if anyone would join. Some 50 people answered,” said Navarro, whose father was a bracero, a Mexican immigrant who came to U.S. for seasonal agricultural work while the program was in effect from 1942-1964.

A total of 13 cars showed up at the rendezvous point the following Saturday. Besides water, they brought dental care and feminine hygiene items, chips, toys and face masks. One woman donated 19 envelopes with $20 each.

The caravan took off and after searching, pulled up next to fields where they saw some people working. They honked horns and cheered the surprised (and initially apprehensive) farm workers. They got out of their cars and pulled out signs, and speaking through a bullhorn thanked them for their work and invited them to approach and receive their gifts.

They have repeated this grassroots effort three more times since then, each time adding more caravan members, carrying more donations and diversifying the gifts. After a member of a caravan took a photo of a worker’s worn shoes weighed down by mud, they collected over 1,000 pairs of shoes and 10,000 pieces of clothing. When the Catholic school where he works as a security guard heard of what he was doing, the school donated $500 and spread the word among the student body, helping to add close to $2,000.

Navarro, who had never done anything of this sort and thought his post would be a one-time thing, found himself leader of a group of like-minded good Samaritans.

“We really liked each other,” he says of the caravan members. “We all had the same objective, to help people.”

It’s a purpose that continues. The group, which calls itself “San Fernando Valley Cares Caravan for Farm Workers,” will come back to the fields. They created a GoFundMe page (https://bit.ly/3hbMHbN) to collect funds and still have clothes and other items for their next trip.

“We’re going back, at least once a month initially and if the pandemic slows down, twice per month,” says Navarro. “As long as people keep donating, we’re going to keep doing it.”

19 Farm Workers Received $20 gifts from the volunteers.

Another big motivator for him is the reaction from the farm workers. The heartfelt thanks, the way their faces illuminate when they receive their gifts keeps him motivated to help.

“I feel satisfied that I’m making a change in people’s lives, even if it’s a small change,” Navarro says.

~ by: Francisco Castro

Francisco Castro was born in El Salvador and graduated from California State University Northridge. He has been a journalist for over 20 years, writing for English and Spanish media in Los Angeles. He is a contributor of good news and positive stories during the pandemic for our regular column, “Silver Linings.”

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