Updated: Sep 8, 2022
March marks the one-year anniversary of the 1b.3 phase of vaccine roll out in Colorado, which opened vaccine access to frontline essential workers in grocery and agricultural industries, as well as individuals 60 and up, and individuals 16-59 with two or more high-risk conditions. In that year’s time, Project Protect Promotora Network (PPPN) assisted workers and families in agricultural communities with over 18,000 vaccine appointments, including first dose, second dose, and boosters. In March and April of 2022, the network’s 63 regional directors, promotores, and neighborhood organizers, continued to distribute face masks, hand sanitizer, rapid COVID-19 test kits, and other care items. As detailed in the last report (January and February 2022), the start of 2022 was the largest wave of COVID-19 yet with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly through Colorado and the nation. While data trends of positive cases and hospitalizations plummeted in February and March, we know there is an untold story in the numbers: the recuperation period. While so-called “long-haul” COVID-19 has been discussed since 2020, recently there has been more discussion of Post-COVID Conditions (PCC). In rural communities where scheduling a medical appointment presents numerous barriers (covered in previous reports), follow up healthcare can be almost unattainable. The Network is able to assist these individuals and families with what they need while in recuperation.
During March and April, the Network held 11,504 conversations, 8,047 of these with agricultural workers, for an average of 183 and 128 conversations per team member, respectively. During this time there was a 41.6% increase in the number of conversations directly with agricultural workers, which coincides with the arrival of new workers for the spring farm work such as pruning fruit trees, preparing soil, repairing and installing irrigation, crop planting and more.
Though rates of COVID-19 have been dropping, there is continued concern about the pandemic within the communities served. Specifically, promotores distributed the largest amount of COVID-19 tests yet, with 2,586 tests given out between March and April. Some of this 223% increase can be attributed to the arrival of agricultural workers for the season, however many tests were given to those agricultural workers who are in Colorado year-round. Promotores also distributed 5,990 face masks, and 2,238 units of hand sanitizer and hygiene products, staying consistent to the previous 2 month period. Clearly, despite COVID-19 rates decreasing, communities are using the Network’s resources in order to stay safe. Despite these precautions, the effects of the pandemic have been well documented and promotores distributed 2,708 boxes of food and 1,944 pieces of outerwear to assist with agricultural workers who arrived without adequate protections from both hot and cold weather.
Regardless of how many items promotores are able to give, there is a second need continually referred to in collected data: direct assistance greater than what the Network can readily provide. In 2022, The Network became an official partner of the Left Behind Workers Fund (LBWF), a collaboration between community-based organizations, philanthropists and the public sector that “helps workers without documentation access cash grants and rental assistance as quickly as possible in times of need.” This fund was launched in 2020 in response to the COVID-19-driven recession. The effects of COVID on a person’s health are correlated to their economic status, so this fund has the ability to alleviate some economic situations which could otherwise exacerbate this health disparity. The community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive - participating regions quickly reached their screener quotas for qualifying individuals.
Left Behind Workers Fund (LBWF)
The importance of economic relief from the LBWF meant that select promotores completed training on the qualification and application process. On February 24th, Project Protect Food System Workers was allocated the first 200 applicant slots. Within a week, many promotores had already filled their initial application allotment and were faced with growing waitlists. Ms. Esperanza Saucedo, who initially had a quota of 15 applicants, explained,
"I learned that the funds from the Left Behind Workers Fund are already very limited and there are many people who still need this help. There is a lot of need in the community. I am creating a waiting list to have it ready to start assisting people as soon as more funds are available. The waiting list is very long, almost 40 people on the list." [Southeast, 3/3/2022, 15077]
As quotas were filled, promotores found that word spread quickly and referrals came flooding in from friends and family members who had already felt the boon of the LBWF. Always seeking to help their community, promotores found creative ways to ensure the maximum number of people were connected with funding. For example, the Southeast team regularly referred applicants to other promotores within the region who had available application slots. In the North 2 region, they often connect with the local Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to refer non-agricultural workers who qualify for LBWF. In one case, a previous LBWF beneficiary referred a woman who was emigrating from Nicaragua to Ms. Eneida Ramirez for assistance. Ms. Eneida Ramirez explained the situation,
“This lady lives in the Greeley area and has several bills in collection because she was sick and also had to face her divorce paying for the lawyer. She is an undocumented stylist and due to COVID-19 she had to stop working, for which she applied for help from the LBWF. I worked with María Castillo from BOCES and refered this case to her, we also spoke with this client by telephone to let her know that although we cannot take her case, we refered her to another program so that they can submit her request.” [North2, 15504, 3/23/2022]
Passing this case to BOCES was not only beneficial to the applicant, but also to the other community-based organizations on the ground who each have their own missions and communities they serve.
As with most other outreach activities, navigation of an application process is a key aspect of successful outreach. Ms. Lucia Gaspar explained the process leading up to the application itself,
“I made first contact with [WORKER NAME] on 3/6 to ask him if he was interested in applying for the LBWF, he stated yes. [WORKER NAME] needed some time to gather his check stubs and asked if we can do it in person as he will need help. We met [on 3/13] to complete his application for the LBWF.” [SLV, 15395, 3/13/2022].
In addition to walking applicants through the required materials, promotores also bring technological knowledge and skill that applicants might be lacking. It is commonplace for promotores to report helping seniors and elders overcome difficulties with technology. Ms. Esperanza Saucedo said a challenge she often faced was, “la falta de acceso a la tecnología hace que estas aplicaciones tarden mucho para poder terminarlas especialmente para las personas de la tercera edad.” [Southeast, 16508, 4/27/2022]
Furthermore, the work of the promotores was not finished by clicking the submit button, many found that there was much assistance needed after the application too. Sometimes this was due to errors or mistakes in the data system or typos on the application, but more frequently applicants needed help with debit cards or with banking institutions in order to access the money they were issued. Ms. Soraya Leon recounts a situation where the economic assistance was delayed and she provided additional support,
“She waited more than a week to get the financial aid. She was referred for financial help from the Forgotten Workers Fund, but there was an error on the Western Union delivery form because they misspelled her name. The error was reported to the corresponding staff and followed up. We recommended where to charge it so as not to have more delays or inconveniences.” [North2, 16640, 4/27/2022].” [North2, 16640, 4/27/2022].
After encountering many situations where the applicant needed assistance after the application, promotores started including this support automatically. Ms. Lucia Gaspar began asking the applicants to call her when they received their debit card in the mail to assist them with the activation process. [SLV, 16527, 4/13/2022]
Closing the loop is an important practice in community-based work. The Network’s outreach is no exception, but the way this happens sets PPPN apart from others doing similar work. For example, Ms. Lucia Gaspar reported that she received calls from applicants she assisted to inform her they received the money from LBWF and to express their gratitude for her help. While this may seem a small act, it demonstrates the strength of the trust and respect the network has worked to cultivate over 19 months. Closing the loop can be a reciprocal and balanced process, not a top-down action.
As the summer months approach, the network is gearing up for a large seasonal and migrant labor force. Material resources like reusable water bottles, work gloves, neck gaiters, long sleeve t-shirts, hats, socks, sunscreen, and hygiene kits are frequently requested by workers as ways they can look after their own physical health. Project Protect Food System Workers is open for both financial and material donations that would support this work. Already in May we have seen an upward trend of positivity rates and hospitalizations. New York Times warns “the full impact of this surge is believed to be even greater than these numbers suggest. Since many infections go uncounted in official case reports, the cases currently announced each day likely capture only a portion of the true toll”. The pandemic is not over and we are entering our third summer - we have learned what is needed in our communities and ask for the support to continue it.
This report was prepared by Kassandra Neiss and Mark Ludke. Contributions from Esperanza Saucedo, Eneida Ramirez, Lucia Gaspar, and Soraya Leon.
May 15, 2021
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Data Activist and Systems Manager | Frontline Farming