Monday, September 5, 2016

Trying to help right an injustice (update on school supply drive 2016)

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) is an ethically-based vegan organization, and although we recognize the environmental and health benefits when eating vegan, we promote veganism because we do not want to contribute to the suffering and death of non-human animals.

As a vegan organization, we know that we are not contributing to the suffering of non-human animals, but as we encourage people to consume more fruits and vegetables, we acknowledge the injustices that farm workers face, and we want to do our part to help right some of those wrongs.

For the third time, F.E.P. has coordinated a school supply drive for the children of farm workers.  We know how much they sacrifice for their children, and we do the school supply drive, not as an act of charity, but as a means of thanking them for all of their work while making sure their children know how much we want them to succeed (and what superstars they are!).

This blog, however, is mostly a time to thank all of YOU!

There are so many people who make this event powerful and meaningful, and it is always important for me to do my best to recognize everyone!

The farm workers and organizations
First and foremost, thanks to the farm worker organizations that got back to us about being able to donate the supplies.

This year, like last, we were able to work with the Center for Farmworker Families (CFF) and Graton Day Labor Center and support these fantastic organizations that work to help farm workers. F.E.P. also does other work (such as supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Boycott Wendy’s campaign and Familias Unidas por la Justicia #BoycottDriscolls campaign) to join our voices with those of the farm workers. This year, we got connected with Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena through California Legal Rural Assistance, and during the school supply drive, we also worked with the United Farm Workers on passing a bill to pay overtime to farm workers.  I was hopeful we would have enough school supplies to share with them as well. Last, we also donated to assist the education of adult farm workers in Kettleman City.

Drop-off locations
I want to thank all of the drop-off locations that agreed early in the year to do this and then went on to promote and gather the school supplies. We could not do this without the generosity of their space and their strong belief in this effort: Center for Employment Training (San José), City Council member Ash Kalra’s office for securing and overseeing two location in San José at Edenvale Branch Library and Southside Community Center, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Santa Rosa (Glazer Center), SoCo Nexus (the hub where our office is located), Marin Humane Society, Pesticide Action Network North America, Stanford Prevention Research Center, La Peña Cultural Center, and Pachamama Alliance.

Just like last year, the Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E served as a drop-off location for their offices for a month!

Adding more donation spots:
We were incredibly excited to be contacted by people who wanted to be a part of this effort! We added more drop-off locations this year, and we were so glad to have them join us: Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, Whole Foods Market (Noe Valley), and the Discovery Learning Center (in Santa Cruz).

Bonus from our supporters outside of the Bay Area:
We also were so touched that so many of our supporters who didn’t live near a drop-off location had school supplies delivered to us! Even some of you outside of California! Thank you so much, and we will definitely include this next year as this made a huge difference!

Icing on the top:
But the giving didn’t stop there!

Our friends at SF Vegans got creative and coordinated a benefit (split between us and Farm Sanctuary) using nectarines from a tree they adopted and raised a lot of money at a brunch at Millennium and a bake sale which they then spent on loads and loads of school supplies!

But the generosity doesn’t stop there! The good people at Sanctuary Bistro, a vegan restaurant in Berkeley, decided to give 15% off to customers who brought in a backpack full of school supplies. Delicious and generous!

And thanks to all supporters who donated to F.E.P. to help cover some of the costs that we incurred to organize this event.

Picking up and packing!
A huge thanks to Susan Larsen and Corinna Dixon for helping me with picking up the school supplies! That might sound easy, but schedules have to be coordinated, and sometimes not all of the supplies will fit in our cars (yay!), so multiple trips are necessary!

Another huge thanks to the volunteers who helped to pack up the school supplies! One Saturday we spent more than 10 ½ hours getting them ready! Thanks to Brian Welch, Sandra & Joel Gluck, Mark Hawthorne, Stefanie Wilson, Sharon Daraphonhdeth, Christopher Larson, Mhris & her mom. And a special shout-out to Debbie for her help and for videotaping us at work.

The next Saturday, we were back at it! Thanks to Jenn Knapp & Jeffrey May (and Annie and Boostie) for opening their home and their help, along with Belle Stafford, Corinna Dixon, Ellen & Dennis Sweeney, Joel & Sandra Gluck, Lori Atkinson, and Mark Hawthorne.
And thanks to the kind folks at SoCo Nexus, where our office is located, who allowed us to use an extra office space for storing all of the supplies we were getting in – incredibly generous!

We also had an anonymous friend of farm worker families donate to help with the cost of renting a vehicle! The vehicle rental is crucial to getting the school supplies to Watsonville.

Our first delivery was part of our continued work with CFF and its founder Dr. Ann Lopez, whose relationship with these farm workers is one of trust and how my idea for the school supply drive got started. A huge thanks to all she does and continues to do!

When we arrived at our delivery location in Watsonville on Sunday morning, we noticed lots of children were starting to arrive too. I asked one if they were there for the school supplies, and he let me know that yes, he and his brothers and sisters were all there to get supplies. By the time we got the delivery vehicle in place, a long line of children was forming, waiting for the distribution. Dr. Lopez told me that people were calling her to get details about it, and we could probably deliver them all at this one location!

The line was as far as I could see, and I was nervous we would run out of supplies. CFF’s staff helped keep the kids focused on picking a backpack and keeping everyone in line.

The photos can speak for themselves, but the kids were adorable and were very excited!

Thanks to Erika Galera, Jennifer Knapp, Mark Hawthorne, Rick Kelley, Sharon Daraphonhdeth, and Susan Larsen for all of their help with the delivery. Thank you to Debbie for again documenting this with her video camera. It is an incredibly rewarding, but also exhausting experience.

During the following week, I also delivered school supplies to the office of the United Farm Workers in Santa Rosa, to the Graton Day Labor Center, to Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena in Windsor, and to the adult farm workers in Kettleman City.

Now how much did we collect?

We collected 379 backpacks -- 47 more than last year!

I want to thank the people who gave us cash donations so that we could purchase the supplies we were running out of to make sure that all of the kids had the same items in their backpacks. It is very important for us to make sure that the children all receive the same materials in each bag.

A big thank you to all of the other people involved who I didn’t specifically mention above:

Billy Lovci, Bob Martinez, Cindy Machado, David Crosby, Devika Ghai, Diane Flores, Ilene Jacobs, Jan Prater, Janessa Olsen, Jason Bayless, Jaya Bhumitra, Jeff Kunz, Jennifer Jones Horton, Jessica Holten, Chef Barry Horton, Jesús Guzmán, Joshua Barousse, Juan Garcia, Julio Molina, Laura Knapp, Lizbeth Valdez, Katherine Connors, the Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E, Lorna Vetters, Marina Dsouza, Mariano Alvarez, Maricela Mares-Alatorre, Mario Valadez, Mindi Broughton & family, Natalie Neira, Patti Breitman, pattrice jones, Rebecca Coakley, Rosa González, SF Vegans Group, Sam Sohmer, Sarah Rice, Stacie Shih, Sue Sullivan, Teresa Sotelo, Valerie Belt, Wendy Lopez, and to our donors who supported this effort and all of our work!

Thanks to Raymund Talavera at KKUP for helping to promote this drive on his airway!

A heartfelt thanks to all of you again for helping my vision become a reality, and your generosity constantly fills my heart with hope and gratitude.

We plan to do this again next year, and we look forward to helping even more kids!

And now finally, enjoy the pictures of the kids:

And if you want to see photos of the packing up and supplies:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sounds before the slaughter

Every month, Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) coordinates protests in front of a chicken slaughterhouse (Petaluma Poultry owned by Purdue – “Rocky the Free Range Chicken” and “Rosie the Original Organic Chicken”).

Every so often we have gone out at night to be there when the chickens are trucked in for slaughter. The other night we went out from 11:30pm – 2:15am.

Unfortunately, it seems the slaughterhouse found out and was quick to call the police.

But that is not what this blog it about.

The last time we did this, I walked away with the burning image of a baby chicken’s eyes when I looked into the crates (again, they are babies when they are killed).

The other night, it was something else.

It was the sounds. The heartbreaking sounds that some of these chicks made - the gentlest cooing.

If you know chickens you possibly know the sounds. The sounds I hear in my head right now are the cutest little sounds. Yet, I know these were not sounds of contentment, but sounds of fear. Fear they endured when they were caught and shoved into these crates with other chickens. Fear as they were driven through the cold at night (a time when they typically sleep – which of course makes this whole despicable process even sadder, if that were possible), and, of course, the fear of slowly being trucked to their deaths.

Each individual bird goes through this – not just thousands, but millions of them.

Each precious little bird, whose body is so fragile, who just wants to live.

To think too much about what each of these gentle birds endures, again, is too much for my mind and heart to process; too much pain, as the reality of it all is too daunting for most of us to ever imagine.

It was not a chorus of cooing, just maybe one or two I could hear. My mind wondered if this was the chick who decided to try to soothe the rest of them with her sweet noises. Her head above the others, looking around and generating this soothing music.

I just wanted to embrace her and hold her and protect her. What I was able to do was tell her I loved her and I was so, so sorry. And that we would continue our work to encourage people to see these birds as individuals who should be able to sing, feel the grass under their feet, and enjoy the sun on their backs.

Thanks to Erika, Eve, Lisa N., Lisa S., Pinky, and Stefanie for being there, for bearing witness.

Thanks for taking photos Erika!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

“We get tired, too”

Recently, I attended a meeting with a local State Senator to encourage him to vote in favor of a bill to allow farm workers to be paid overtime, like most workers are in the state of California. I was honored to sit with seven farm workers and 10 community leaders.

As always, it was an incredible learning experience, and of course one that makes your heart break, but it gives you determination to right the injustices these workers face every day.

One of the farm workers spoke up about the fact that she has to take her kids to the babysitter early in the morning, and when she has to work overtime, she then has to pay the babysitter overtime, so because she receives no additional compensation, she actually earns less money.

Plus, these farm workers have to drive long distances to get to work, as well as deal with the high housing costs that force both parents to work in the fields so they can pay the rent.

They also talked about how much time they spend in the fields and how little time they are able to spend at home. If they were paid overtime, it would at least help make their difficult situation more tolerable, since they would actually be earning more money – money they deserve.

One farm worker also spoke about how some farms have farm workers labor from 9pm until midnight after having worked an 8-hour shift during the day; it breaks up the day, but the farm owners get away with not paying overtime.

And of course, many farm workers also spoke about being paid by how much they pick vs. receiving an hourly wage.

One farm worker said, “We get tired, too, just like everyone else.”

One of the concerns of the State Senator was that paying overtime wages to farm workers might hurt small farmers (mind you, he was primarily referring to dairy farms). But where this argument fails is that it doesn’t make a difference to the farm worker if it is a small or large farm – they are not being compensated for working overtime as legally required in other industries.

In other words, they are at present being overworked without compensation.

Is it that our policymakers are more concerned with those who are profiting? It seems to me that they should be just as concerned for those who are toiling away in the fields helping small and big farmers make a profit.

From my professional perspective? Currently, Food Empowerment Project has two employees: a part-time person and me. We easily need two additional full-time people, as we have that much work to do, along with even more ideas about what we would like to implement as we grow. But we don’t have them. Why? Because we want to be able to pay employees a living wage and give them benefits (and since I am the founder – I understand that I might not receive a living wage, but as the founder, I make sacrifices). So instead of hiring more people and paying them less, we accept that we have to grow more slowly than I would like until our donations increase in order to do even more.

Perhaps farmers who can’t pay their workers living wages should reconsider growing too big until they can do so.

Rocket science? I don’t think so. Problematic priorities? Methinks yes!

I want to add as well that we had invited Assemblymember Bill Dodd to speak at a big event we had in Vallejo, but when we found out that he had voted against an earlier version of this bill, we rescinded our invitation. It is important for us to remind policymakers of our values and that we do want that reflected in our laws.

Thanks to the United Farm Workers for all of their work on this bill and for inviting other groups to show policymakers there are many of us ready to speak in solidarity for the farm workers.