When they arrived in the Sacramento Valley, many people said they would be gone in a year. That was 15 years ago. Indeed, the sign outside the door of the small, crammed office of the Western Farm Workers Association has proven to be true: Here to win, here to stay.
Entering the tiny office, the walls are covered with inspirational posters and loaded with shelves of informational books. It may look somewhat cluttered to the outsider. There is a small kitchen where members may have lunch after a day of volunteering. Spanish rice, pork and beans and tortillas are in the refrigerator. The smell of coffee drifts through the air.
Florencio Droz-Perez sits to the right of the front door. He is a full-time volunteer administrative assistant. His involvement with associations like the WFWA began 14 years ago because he was deeply moved by the mistreatment of the poor in this country, he said.
“This is not a charity,” he said. “We need to get the word out. We need to build a movement to fight for our interests and end the reasons why workers live in impoverished conditions.”
The WFWA opened part-time in 1986 after a major flood caused dramatic damage that affected many people in the Sacramento Valley. During that time, a great need was discovered to create a membership organization to fight for the rights of the low paid farm and service work force. That is how the free and voluntary membership program began.”They are advocates for the farm workers,” said David Rubiales, Yuba College professor and a member of the WFWA advisory committee for 10 years.
Farm workers need someone to speak for them who understands a system that can sometimes be hostile and difficult, said Rubiales. “The movement is growing and we have the potential to become something big on a nationwide basis,” said Droz-Perez.
Although all members are asked to volunteer, it is not obligatory. Still, volunteers are highly coveted and desperately needed, especially during the holiday season. About 400 volunteers are needed to help out with a number of activities, which include anything from turkey basket distributions to answering the phones.
“We ask volunteers to meet two qualifications,” said Droz-Perez. “We ask people to care and to work.”
According to operations manager Niam Rafferty, information about the WFWA has gotten around the area not through the media, but by “arms length work,” actually knocking on doors and going into the camps. Members are also encouraged to tell their friends and family about the benefits provided by the WFWA.
“We depend on the support of active members, volunteers and other supporters to make benefits available,” said Droz-Perez.”If people don’t help each other out, they aren’t going to eat,” said Art Medina, owner of Art’s Windshield Repair, located directly next door to the WFWA office. Medina has been a dedicated sponsor for a year now.Medina can remember working in the fields at the age of nine with his father.
“Being poor humbles you,” said Medina. “Don’t forget where you came from.”
Medina likes sponsoring the WFWA because he knows where his money is going. He describes the WFWA members as hardworking people.”They don’t stop,” he said.
Salvador V. Soto, Yuba College professor, has been involved with the WFWA for about 13 years.
“This is the only organization that is out there,” said Soto. “They are active in canvassing. They are active in providing services. They make people aware.”
Soto believes it is important for people to become involved and volunteer their time.
“Learn about your culture and stay connected,” he said. People interested in volunteering or becoming a member should call (530) 790-0980.