By: Peninsula 360 Press
Author: Olivia Wynkoop Bay City News
Published: July 21, 2022
San Mateo County farmworkers will soon be able to access health care resources via a double-decker bus, thanks to a new program launched by local advocacy groups and backed by major life sciences companies like Genentech.
The program to be launched in September, Farmworker Equity Express, will be equipped with computers and the Internet to help farmworkers connect virtually with health care providers, mental health resources, online tutoring and classes for adults in community college programs.
Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, executive director of the Latino advocacy group Ayudando Latinos a Soñar (ALAS), said she and her team saw firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the obstacles farmworkers already faced in trying to obtain basic resources.
"There is a medical clinic here in the community, but the farmworkers are so hard-working that many of them don't take the time to go, or they have problems with transportation, or they don't want to miss work with the worry of job loss," Hernandez-Arriaga said in an interview.
"The privilege of how others have health care is not the same in many ways for farmworkers."
Community access to mental health care is an especially overlooked challenge, said Joaquin Jimenez, ALAS' director of farmworker outreach and program.
"Bringing mental health to the forums has always been a goal," Jiménez said. "Two WINGS physicians visit the farms during the week and conduct activities and counseling, but farmworkers also come to our office. This bus will provide a conference room for physicians to meet with farmworkers and their families, and it also has two soundproof areas for mental health through telehealth."
The organization presented the idea for a resource-on-wheels program to Life Science Cares Bay Area, a coalition of life science companies looking to give back to the community, and together they secured the funds to make it happen.
The Gilead Foundation was a major donor and AbbVie Inc. also contributed. Biotechnology company Genentech donated its time and expertise to design a double-decker bus suitable for the project, similar to the buses they operate for their daily passengers.
Now, instead of having to take time off work to go to the doctor's office, or avoid care altogether due to lack of insurance, farmworkers can visit a bus parked right outside their workplace.
ALAS already works with about 20 farms in the county to provide services to farmworkers, and the organization hopes to map out a weekly schedule of where the bus will be and when, as September approaches.
"The Farmworker Equity Express bus is the result of the power of nonprofit and biotech companies coming together and turning ideas into reality," Hernandez-Arriaga said.
It cost approximately $250,000 to purchase the bus and convert it into a resource center, and now the organization is looking for more donors to keep the project sustainable and long-term.
In that sense, Hernandez-Arriaga calls on other life sciences companies in Silicon Valley to support the project and be an example of what partnerships between companies and non-profit organizations can look like.
"We've heard from all sides how impactful this can be for others, for other communities and for the whole country. This can be a game changer for the other farmworker communities, so we hope to continue to build that funding source for this," Hernandez-Arriaga said.
ALAS will also host community information sessions to provide more information about the Equity Express farm bus on August 10, 17, 24 and 31 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the community room of the Half Moon Bay Library, located at 620 Correas St., Half Moon Bay.
Source: Peninsula 360 Press/Bay City News