Success Story:
The Farmworker Assistance Project: A Lifeline in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Michigan

Community resilience is commonly defined as the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity. The Farmworker Assistance Project was evidence of a community taking swift action to support individual members in times of need, helping to them overcome a time of extreme challenge — with dignity and generosity.

Lorena, a seasonal farmworker, had been unemployed for over month in 2020. Thanks to the Farmworker Assistance Project, the check Lorena received covered two months’ worth of rent and food for her family. Shown: Telamon Michigan staff member, Elmira Morales, and Lorena outside the Paw Paw, MI, office.

For most people, 2020 was a year filled with unprecedented challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Fear and uncertainty were widespread as communities tried to stay healthy and abreast of changing safety-related protocols. Unemployment skyrocketed as businesses were forced to close to prevent the spread of the virus, and many people were left wondering how they would pay their bills. Farmworkers — who are considered essential workers due to their role in supplying the nation with food — had to make the difficult choice between putting themselves and their families at risk by continuing to work or struggling to put food on their own tables.

Hundreds of farmworker families were unable to receive the stimulus checks that so many Americans depended on for financial relief. With the pandemic raging on, bills continued to pile up for many Michigan farmworkers.

Late in the fall, Telamon Michigan received some wonderful news: a generous anonymous private donation would enable the organization to provide 1,250 farmworker families with checks in the amount of $1,000 each. Established as the Farmworker Assistance Project, the focus would be on farmworkers who had been hardest hit by the pandemic.

The Telamon Michigan Team immediately put a plan in place to begin taking applications for funds. A small but mighty team of staff from Telamon’s three lines of business worked together to take hundreds of calls per day and process more than 1,200 applications within the first month of the project. Dedicated staff pulled together to review hundreds of farmworker applications, to process and distribute each individual check in person to individuals and families. With the Workforce & Career Services team taking the lead, a strategic plan created and carried out within Telamon’s five offices across the state to ensure safe and efficient weekly check distribution following Covid-19 safety protocols. Staff worked tirelessly to support members across several communities in Michigan, and the impact was enormous. Many lives were touched, including:

  • A farmworker father whose 8-year-old son had recently passed away unexpectedly was drowning in bills after paying the funeral expenses. With tears in his eyes, he gratefully accepted the $1,000 check, sharing that this would help him to catch up on his living expenses.
  • A farmworker mother had recently contracted Covid-19 and lost her job because of it. Even after she recovered, her employer would not allow her to return to work. She was having a hard time finding a new job, so she was very appreciative of this assistance, which helped her to put food on the table for her children until she could find work again.
  • A single mother of four was recently forced to flee a domestic violence situation and was not receiving any child support from her husband. She had the courage to share her story and told Telamon staff that “this donation was like a shining light in the darkness.”

Telamon-TRC’s Workforce & Career Services encompasses a broad array of customized work readiness and job skill training programs, focusing on helping farmworkers, and youth who seek to build skills and career paths. Work readiness and job skill development are often supplemented by language services (ESL), educational support (GED) and includes one-on-one counseling, group workshops and supportive services.

Since 1965 Telamon-TRC has helped individuals like you access services that lead to better jobs, better lives, and better communities. Find a Workforce & Career Services program near you today.

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