Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help, Inc. in Dade City, stands in front of some 80 bags of donated food. Her organization holds a weekly food bank, but on May 9, the distribution was held particularly for undocumented families, who are unable to receive any governmental assistance and losing work as a result of the pandemic, and without a financial safety net. (JEAN GONZALEZ | FC)

DADE CITY | Rosa M. is a resident of Dade City who works in construction. 

But because of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she hasn’t had work since February. But she does not receive food stamps, does not receive unemployment and is not eligible for a stimulus payments. 

She has struggled for the past two months, especially with four children to feed. It is for that reason she found herself waiting in line in her car early Saturday, May 9, 2020 to participate in a food distribution offered by Farmworkers Self-Help Inc.

“These families are very special because they are undocumented families,” said Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help, which was profiled for the Florida Catholic’s Long Sleeve Relief Campaign in 2019. “These families are invited especially because we know they have no food stamps, no help that others might receive, even though they are considered essential workers, but they cannot get essential food.”

Rosa’s story and Romo’s organization’s response are not unique. All of Florida’s counties are seeing a drastic rise in unemployment, with Miami-Dade, Osceola and Orange counties among those at the top of the list. Food banks from Venice to Lakeland, Bonita Springs to Miami, Dade City to Apopka, and all areas in between, are working overtime to feed communities. Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, local parishes are just some examples of the Catholic organizations staffing and donating to food banks. 

Farmworkers Self-Help also opens its food bank on Thursdays for the community at large. On one Thursday, staffers were able to offer fresh eggs donated by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, an egg farmer and whose district includes Dade City.

But Romo said Saturdays would be dedicated to feeding undocumented families. Doing so creates an awareness about the how those who are undocumented serve to move the economy forward. Romo said they work at nurseries and farmwork, with the blueberry season just coming to close, and in restaurants and hotels, which were hit hard during the pandemic. Romo said the event not only feeds families, but also spurs advocates to connect with state and congressional members “to let them know these people need to at least be able to get food.”

“I live on social security that (undocumented workers) put into the pot,” Romo said, citing the taxes taken out of their wages and the sales tax they pay as any shopper does. “And that has been going on for years and years. Our hope is to make sure the undocumented community is fed.”

To do so, Romo relies on donations. A community neighbor — Daystar Hope Center — offered food that they had not distributed rather than let it go to waste. Catholic parishes of surrounding towns offer assistance, including food and diapers. On the May 9 event, volunteers from Tampa Bay Missions and members of the Brazilian community came with donated food and supplies.

Sandra Reyes, of Tampa Bay Missions, which also offers support in Plant City and Immokalee, expressed thanks to the Brazilian community for volunteering with the Dade City event that served some 80 families. 

“We are uniting ourselves, no matter from what community, to be there for one another,” she said. “If God has blessed us with a multitude of items, we are asked to bless other people in need. We are here to serve our one, true Lord. And for those of us here volunteering and donating, it is a great blessing for us.”


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