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ALAS’s Equity Express returns to farms

Bus brings health services, English literacy classes to workers

  • May 3, 2024 Updated May 9, 2024

At Giusti farms, farmworkers will have a chance to work full-time on Monday where they'll plant seeds for the first time since December. 

Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Coastside News Group

From far away anyone could see the gigantic two-story yellow bus on Purissima Street. It was parked right in front of the Ayudando Latinos a Soñar yellow home on 636 Purissima, the center of operations in Half Moon Bay. On Wednesday, May 1, it was loaded with groceries for two farm visits. 

The yellow Equity Express bus is caked with various colorful designs including a jaguar, a moon, butterflies and a crest of flowers. Sandra Sencion, once chief of staff for ALAS founder and director Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, is now the farmworker director for the nonprofit’s outreach team and led the visits to Cabrillo Farms and Giusti Farms. 

Above on the double-decker Equity Express bus, farmworkers will have access to WiFi or other services in-person from the safety of the bus. 

“Now with the bus, our programming can be mobile,” said Sencion. “We will have wifi equipped on the bus and later on include Second Harvest to teach farmworkers to eat healthy food.” 

As of now the new programming for the bus includes mental health services through tele-health or in-person, English literacy classes, art classes, computer basics and music lessons. The farmworkers on Wednesday’s visit received Amazon gift cards which come with the promise that they’ll get to learn computer basics to be able to purchase the stuff they want. 

When the Equity Express bus arrived at Cabrillo farms, ALAS’s Farmworker Outreach Team quickly went to work gathering workers to announce the services they’re going to bring with the bus. Jorge Sanchez, the ALAS farmworker outreach community case manager, said that they’re happy to bring mobile service back and they want everyone to use the services they have because the organization is here to support the farmworkers.

Cristhian Landaverde and Ana Morales-Galvan from the Farmworker Outreach Team also chimed in to welcome the farmworkers to this mobile service. Morales-Galvan, equity express bus program manager, told the group at Cabrillo and Giusti, “If you see the bus, you’ll see me too.”

The double-decker bus first came into the Coastside in July 2022 through partnership with Life Science Cares Bay Area and ALAS. Genentech employees were also able to provide one of their commuter buses to be retrofitted for farmworkers.

Once arriving at Cabrillo Farms, the farmworker outreach team met the farmworkers and informed them about the programming that will be included with the double-decker bus. 

New updates in the programming and partnerships with other nonprofits will benefit more farmworkers on the Coastside. Luis Valdivias, director of operations at The Freedom Center, also known as El Centro de Libertad, a non-profit organization that specializes in providing mental health treatment and drug or alcohol rehabilitation services, joined in with his colleague Issac Vasquez to inform the farmworkers about the services they provide.

Valdivias said it’s easy to slip into addiction due to the physically taxing work or the isolation that comes with living away from family. 

“It’s in our culture – if you want to eat something, you drink – if you want to go to a party, you drink,” said Valdivias. “Without having proper knowledge of the effects of alcohol, long term-wise, it’s not good.” 

While the farmworkers were able to take a tour of the bus at Cabrillo and Giusti farms, the outreach team prepared to give them each bags of potatoes, vegetables, fruit, toothpaste, jackets and ice cream.

Most of the farmworkers on the Coastside haven’t worked since the season wrapped up in December. The rain in early 2024 also delayed the start of the 2024 planting season. A senior Cabrillo farmworker said she hasn’t worked since December, but through ALAS bringing groceries she’s able to get by. If not she would have to go find work to survive.

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