Unsung Santa Cruz: From her home, she organizes a food distribution program for fellow migrant farmworkers

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Ernestina Solorio spent hours one December morning setting up her backyard, organizing donations, setting up tables, and supervising volunteers. She collects donations from individuals, organizations and churches arranged by the Watsonville-based non-profit Farmworker Family Center, delivers them through the back door and organizes them in tables and storage rooms. This is a familiar routine for her, who has led and hosted the monthly distribution of items for two years from her home in Watsonville.

Ann Lopez, founder of the center, says Solorio not only gives her time but also her own home and space to make sure the distribution works. was sorting out diapers piled on the kitchen table.

“She’s amazing. She’s totally honest, she’s tolerant, and she loves kids. ‘She’s the ideal person for me.'”

Lopez founded the Farm Worker Family Center to raise awareness of the injustices faced by farm worker families and to provide direct remedies to the families.

“This is a matter of life and death,” she said of meeting basic needs.

Lopez said a lot Migrant farm workers are not documented, and when the harvest season ends in the fall, other jobs become much more difficult. Without income, families struggle to afford expensive rent, childcare, utilities, clothing, and basic necessities such as food and diapers.

Volunteers prepare to distribute basic necessities to families of Watsonville migrant farm workers in early December.

Volunteers prepare to distribute basic necessities to families of Watsonville migrant farm workers in early December.

(Thomas Sawano / Lookout Santa Cruz )

Recognizing this need, Lopez began distributing these essentials monthly to farm worker families about 15 years ago.

She says that over the years volunteers have helped make this distribution possible, but without Solorio’s help, the service would have really struggled over the past few years. Solorio provided his home as the main location for the distribution.

“I’m happy to contribute to the community. We need a lot,” Soorio said, standing around a table with bags of dry food in her backyard. I feel happy to see that I can help them become

Solorio’s house has a long backyard that opens onto an alley, with structures used to store dry and canned goods, diapers, hygiene products, and bags of a variety of items that circulate.

Each month, families start lining up in the alleys before the 2:00 p.m. distribution time, just like on December 9th. Donated a bag of holiday goodies.

Solorio kept walking from the warehouse to the table to the alleyway, making sure everything was going well. Meanwhile, my 21-year-old daughter was coordinating her family list from her entrance. Occasionally, her youngest son would look out the back door from inside the house to see what was going on.

“I’m happy my kids can see this,” Solorio said.

Solorio came to Watsonville in 1993 from Michoacan, Mexico. The area she lived in had no economic opportunities, no running water or electricity. She and her family worked in agriculture, harvesting corn and other crops, but it wasn’t enough to keep food on the table. Around the age of 22, she moved to the United States in search of work to help her family out of poverty.

It was here that Solorio met and married her husband and had four children, now aged 25, 21, 15, and 10. She has obtained her work permit and is in the process of obtaining her permanent residency. Despite her many benefits, she also had some difficult times. Her husband was deported about five years ago, and she died about a year ago.

To support his family, Solorio has been picking strawberries in the Pajaro Valley for the past 30 years. She met Lopez about 15 years ago at Watsonville’s Buena Vista immigrant camp. Lopez said the camp is one of 22 such camps in California, where migrant workers live from the beginning of April or May until the end of November.

Soon after they met, Solorio began volunteering to help Lopez at the Center for Farmworker Families, which was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2012.

In addition to organizing monthly distributions, Solorio also coordinates a monthly list of which families need rental assistance. When a farm worker is injured and hospitalized, Solorio calls the family to connect them to the center.

She has done all this while working her strawberry picking job and taking care of her children as a single parent.

“She sacrifices everything for her children,” Lopez said. “She is my hero.”

Volunteers prepare to distribute basic necessities to families of Watsonville migrant farmworkers on December 9.

Volunteers prepare to distribute basic necessities to families of Watsonville migrant farmworkers on December 9.

(Thomas Sawano / Lookout Santa Cruz )

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