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Hispanic farm workers reap the benefit from unique local organiziation

In a way, Gloria Dominguez-Work has become the patron saint of the Hispanic farm worker community in Ashland and Talent.

“We try to provide the Hispanic farm worker community with food during the winter because they don’t have enough food during that time,” said Dominguez-Work, who helped found the Hermanas program. “They don’t benefit from any other programs.”

Hermanas, the creation of Dominguez-Work and Ashland Emergency Food, has been giving food and gift certificates to Food 4 Less to local Hispanic families for the past six years Bank through donations from private donors and area churches.

“To us, it helps a lot,” said Lupe Aguilar, who works in the packing plant at Bear Creek. Her husband is employed in the orchards. “It’s a lot of help when we get the gift certificates.”

“Day by day, it’s very touching,” Dominguez-Work said. “The feelings that come around by helping people are amazing.”

A ‘unique’ approach

Hermanas gives $50 gift certificates to Food 4 Less in Medford, in addition to introducing families to the pantry at the AEFB. For families like the Romeros, the assistance from Hermanas will carry them through a tough winter.

“When the gift certificate comes and we don’t have any food, we buy the most needed things like tortillas, beans, rice and milk,” said Eulodia Romero, who has three children. She and her husband had both worked in the Bear Creek packing plant, but now neither is employed.

“It’s a program that’s very helpful to these people,” Dominguez-Work said. “We give them fresh food, which makes the program very unique. They can eat their cultural foods.”

Hermanas picked Food 4 Less because of its inexpensive prices: a five-pound bag of tortillas runs $2.49 and 10 pounds of rice is just $3.31.

“We know that’s where the Hispanic population buys their food because it the cheapest,” Dominguez-Work said. “Sometimes with the gift certificate, not only do they buy food, but they buy medicine and other items that are of need for the house and the kids. They are very careful to manage the money.”

The continuing problem

Most of the year, the farm worker community supports itself, but November through February work becomes scarce because of growing seasons and weather conditions, leaving many families struggling to make ends meet.

They cannot draw unemployment because, with a four-month lack of work, the workers don’t clock enough hours.

“I’ve worked in the orchards for 25 years, so I know the needs of the families,” said Ignacio Ramirez, who helps Dominguez-Work deliver food and gift certificates to families. “The problem is very big because, during this time, there isn’t enough work.

Ramirez estimates Hermanas helps about 40 percent of the hungry families in the area. In 2002, the program fed 305 adults and 542 children.

“About 10,000 to 15,000 people are in need during the winter,” Ramirez said. “It’s a program that’s very helpful to these people because the need is very great.”

Hermanas narrows its focus to just families within the Ashland-Talent area, especially those without any income in the winter, with children or with illness in the family.

“We are just helping very small amounts of people in this community,” Dominguez-Work said. “They know this is coming and it gives them hope.”

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