In the middle of the night on Saturday, December 3, 2022, farmworkers from Mexico did what they always do: They crossed the border to get on a bus to be taken to work in the cold, muddy fields in Yuma. This time, however, NAU Yuma Social Work students were there to give the workers dry socks to change into later, as well as warm beanies, Chapstick, and blankets.
The annual event called Dia Del Campesino takes place from 2:00 to 6:00 a.m. right at the border crossing in San Luis, Arizona, says Kara Ahearn, Assistant Clinical Professor of Social Work at NAU Yuma. “The concept is that farmworkers don’t have the ability to take time off from work to get their emotional or physical needs met. One night a year, the resources get brought to them.”
The social work program in Yuma has an emphasis on the US/Mexico border, she said. “Advocating and supporting our farmworkers is a critical component of our program. Over 90% of lettuce nationwide comes from Yuma in the Winter. Our farmworkers make this possible. They are vulnerable to exploitation and often don’t have the equipment to maintain their health, safety, and comfort.”
Many of the social work students have parents who work in the fields, so this population hits close to home, she added.
“The students shared that the farmworkers often get cold, wet feet while working, so having an extra pair of socks to change into during the day can make a huge difference in their comfort.”
The students gathered the gifts of comfort during sock and blanket drives they had organized, and the NAU Social Work department also donated beanies, chap stick, and pens to pass out to the farmworkers.
“It was very cold the night of the event,” Ahearn said. “Many of the workers wore bright vests (the kind you wear so people see you in the dark). Clothing varied, but most were dressed in jeans, flannel shirts, and as many warm weather items as possible, such as beanies, hats, and mittens.”
Despite the very cold weather in the middle of the night, Ahearn said the environment was lively, supportive and celebratory. There was food, music, and informational booths staffed by workers from local health and wellness organizations.
“The farmworkers seemed overwhelmed by support,” Ahearn said. “Many had plastic bags that were busting from all the items they received. They were so incredibly appreciative to get the support and items to help with their comfort.”
The students can’t wait to do it again next year, she said, adding “We will definitely need more inventory!”
Ahearn stresses the importance of increasing awareness and appreciation for the farmworkers. “Many communities, ours included, often forget about the hard work and sacrifice that goes into making it possible for us to enjoy fresh produce in the winter. The early hours, long workdays, and time the workers must spend away from their families are things that we shouldn’t take for granted.”
Ahearn can be reached at (928) 317-6411.