WAMC Delivers First Round of Safety Backpacks

On Saturday, April 17, 2021 a group of volunteers consisting of employees of the Green Team Realty, three local area farmworkers, original team members for the CDC-NYCAMH Project, the Warwick Area Farmworker Organization Board Members (whose parent organization is the Warwick Area Migrant Committee), volunteers from the local community, and Chief Thomas McGovern of the Town of Warwick NY Police Department along with two other police officers from the Department gathered together to assemble safety backpacks as part of the WAMC Safety Backpack program at the Alamo Community Center in Goshen, New York.

There was a total of twenty five people who so generously donated their time to put all the components (safety goggles, first aid kit, hand sanitizer, water bottle, ear plugs, masks, and work gloves) into each bright orange backpack. 350 safety backpacks were assembled in about two hours thanks to this team of volunteers’ hard work. Thank you to all the volunteers who so generously donated their time to this great cause– it is really appreciated and everyone did such an outstanding job!

On Sunday, April 18, 2021 the WAFO distributed 90 of the completed bags to local area migrant farmworkers at the Pine Island Elementary School in Pine Island, New York. The farm workers also got a brief educational seminar from the WAFO staff on how to properly use the supplies in their backpack including the safety goggles. Also on Sunday, a COVID-19 immunization clinic was also held at the Pine Island Elementary School at the same time so those interested could receive vaccinations.

This was the first of the backpack distribution sessions that the WAFO will be holding throughout the area as it continues to distribute the remaining backpacks in the coming weeks. Community members may notice farm workers wearing these bright orange backpacks as they make their way around various area roads. Please remember especially as it continues to warm up to be vigilant while you are driving for all walkers especially on the many rural roads in our community that have little or no shoulder to walk on. We can all help with this effort by being aware while we are driving and watching out for people walking.

More detailed information about the WAMC Safety Backpack program is below the photo gallery. We are still collecting funds to complete as many bags as possible. You can donate to this program online here. Thank you to everyone who donated already and once again to all the volunteers who helped make this great program happen!

Organization Background:

The Warwick Area Farmworker Organization provides services and support for area farmworkers and their families. It is a 501c3 Public Charity formed by It’s parent organization-Warwick Area Migrant Committee. Warwick Area Migrant Committee was established over 62 years ago to provide support for the area farmworkers. During the last 62 years, many programs have been initiated to improve the health and well-being of the families supporting agriculture in the Black Dirt Region. One of the largest programs offered is the Dulce Esperanza (Sweet Hope) Summer Enrichment Program which serves over 90 children of farmworkers. Formation of the Public Charity will allow the organization to apply for some restricted grant and foundation funding.

What are we intending to do with the safety bags?

The Warwick Area Farmworker Organization has launching a campaign to provide safety backpacks to the area farmworkers this April. As the harvest season begins, many of the area farmworkers use Pulaski Highway as they walk or ride their bikes to the fields. There are no shoulders and limited lighting on the roads in the Black Dirt region which has led to accidents or dangerous conditions. This is especially difficult in the growing season when farmworkers are arriving and leaving the fields in the dark. The National Institute of Health along with the National Center for Rural Road Safety, have statistics reflecting a higher rate of accidents and fatalities on rural roadways. Rural locations were found to have a rate: a higher AI/AN pedestrian fatality rate per population than urban areas (6.1 deaths vs. 3.9 deaths per 100,000 population, p<0.0001). The relative rate of pedestrian death per 100,000 population among AI/AN compared to all other races was 2.56 (95% confidence level). #1 from the NIH/NC Rural Road Safety website.

Other safety issues addressed with the contents of the backpacks include: dehydration and COVID protection. Cleaning of hands is always difficult in the fields and so the addition of hand sanitizer will help. Information on COVID spread is included and masks are provided. Other safety features include a small first aid kit to care for simple wounds in the field. The bags will be delivered by Community Health Workers trained in reviewing the basic information and how to use the supplies in the bags and the bags themselves.

What do the bags include?

The backpacks are bright orange and can be worn while walking, riding a bike or working in the fields, making them more visible. The contents of the bag will also relate to safety for people employed in farm work. Safety goggles will be included as they protect eyes during pruning of fruit trees and when wind makes black dirt particles airborne on the fields. The use of safety goggles were part of a CDC project five years ago. Other items will include hand sanitizer, water bottles; ear plugs, masks, and work gloves. A small first aid kit is also included. The backpacks will be distributed to farmworkers throughout the black dirt region as supplies are available. We anticipate assembling 300 bags on Saturday April 17th from 10-12 Noon. Distribution to the area farmworkers will include a brief education session which includes information on COVID protection and vaccine information.

History of the Eye Goggles:

The idea for the goggles has been around for over five years. Sun River Health (then the Hudson River Health Center) worked with the New York Center for Agricultural Health and Medicine on a project that was funded by the Centers for Disease Control. The project targeted a specific safety hazard for area farmworkers. A group was assembled which had representatives from Migrant Health, Farmworkers, Farmworkers and other organizations serving farmworkers. They used injury data to determine the focus of the project-eye injuries. Eye injuries can come from at least two causes-small dirt particles blowing into the eyes and fruit tree branches hitting the eyes, especially while pruning. These were some of the top injuries for farmworkers working in black dirt farms and fruit orchards. The project was a big success with both farmers and farmworkers involved. Goggles were made available through the grant and education was delivered to many area farms during the project. Unfortunately, as funding ended for the project, purchasing more goggles was not an option. This program was so successful, it was expanded all over New York state through the NYCAMH. While this project will not solve the full issue, it is a good beginning.

Description of Community Support for this project:

The cost to assemble each bag and the bag itself is about $20. Contributions have been made by individual community members and groups in the Warwick area. Over 40 donations have been made to support this project. Some of the largest contributors were the Orthmann Family of Warwick and contributions from Jeff Green Realty and State Farms. Conations have come in from
Supporters of this project are diverse but include many people from the community who are aware of the concern.

The following organizations have supported this project:

  • New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health-Eye Goggles
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County-Hand sanitizer
  • Warwick PBA-Donation
  • Fidelis-Safety supplies COVID prevention