By Denise Badger-Connell, Publisher
     International Workers’ Day took place a couple days ago, on May 1st. You may have missed it, not knowing it was a day different than any other. But in Apopka, last Friday stood out. It stood out because it was a day that brought more smiles and raised more hopes than usual for a lot of essential workers that didn’t know they were.
     With the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrating May 1 as International Worker’s Day became particularly important to those who work with the struggling labor force in our community, like the Farmworkers Association of Florida, Apopka (FWAF), and the Hope CommUnity Center (HCC). These two non-profits have witnessed first hand the huge shifts happen since March, with hundreds of local workers losing their jobs and livelihoods, and still others who have long been “essential” finding they are now even more so. They have seen these workers risking their health, their family’s health, and their lives to keep the rest of us safe and fed.
     The list of essential workers is long. Many, like healthcare workers, first responders, military and law enforcement, have always been recognized as such. But there are others, such as supermarket employees, delivery workers, janitors, and farmworkers especially, who have not.
     While those in this latter group have always been essential by the sheer nature of what they do, they have struggled to gain the same respect as the other sectors more commonly acknowledged. Many of these laborers toil in the shadows of an immigration system that drives them underground, even though they contribute economically through labor, consumption, and taxes paid.
     For those in the shadows, incentive checks will never arrive, and they will never qualify for unemployment benefits, even though money is deducted from their wages before they are paid.
     These are the forgotten ones.
     Except they weren’t on May 1st, thanks to the FWAF and HCC. These two non-profits came together to do something about it, something different, something from and with the community so these invisible and underappreciated workers would know Apopka cared.

     While other essential workers around the United States, from companies such as Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, FedEx, Target, and Shipt threatened to walk off their jobs on May 1st and protest the lack of basic protections for continuing on the frontlines, and still others planned a rent strike that day that would be the largest in nearly a century, the FWAF, and HCC organized a more peaceful route of action.

     Together they put a call out for neighbors to stand with these workers, form a caravan to visit them, and applaud and appreciate them in person. They decided on May 1st they would make sure all essential workers got the recognition they deserved, regardless of their background or their national origin.
     Gathering together that Friday with signs and vehicles, careful to respect the CDC guidelines to wear face masks, use hand sanitizer, and maintain social distancing, they began the day with an informative and educational press conference at the Farmworkers Association building in Apopka.
     Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator of the FWAF shared, “Farmworkers who harvest our food and health care workers who take care of us when we are sick have always been essential workers, but this new pandemic has brought them into the spotlight like never before. On May Day, International Workers Day, we stand in solidarity with the workers who risk their health and their lives every day while they hold the very fabric of our society together in this crisis.” 
     With spirits high and determined then, the lively group loaded up into cars and vans and started out, visiting nurseries and applauding workers there, and concluding with a visit of  appreciation to the health care workers at the hospital.
     The volunteers and staff, neighbors and strangers who came together to say thank you, raised awareness of the disparity of concern and well-being of so many we depend on.
     And they raised hope too.
     They raised hope that one day #WeStandWithEssentialWorkers will truly be a day where one and all who labor in our community will be better known, recognized and appreciated for what they do and who they are, not just on May 1st, but every day, and not just in Apopka, but everywhere.
     It’s a hope. And one that all of us together, with intentionality, can help make happen.
     Visit the Farmworkers Association of Florida, Apopka and Hope CommUnity Center for more information and get involved.

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