Lariza Garzón

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This oral history interview was conducted by Sophie Therber with interviewee Lariza Garzón via Zoom on August 3, 202. The main focus is Lariza’s involvement with the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry helping farmworkers mitigate the COVID pandemic, extreme weather, and other challenges such as mental health and the collective trauma that farmworkers and immigrants face. Lariza describes working to help farmworker communities recover from hurricanes and facilitate processes of healing within these communities. Lariza draws connections between the trauma of immigration to North Carolina and the trauma associated with disasters such as hurricanes and COVID, discussing the importance of allowing community members to share this trauma and have conversations about what is needed to promote collective healing. She emphasizes the humanity of farmworker communities and the magnitude of the community response to COVID.



Sophie Therber [00:00:01] Alright, my name is Sophie Therber, and I'm interviewing Lariza Garzón, and today is Oct -- excuse me, August 3rd, and the time is 5:08 PM. Lariza, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you.

Lariza Garzón [00:00:12] My pleasure to be here with you.

Sophie Therber [00:00:15] So just to start, where are you from? And can you tell me about that area?

Lariza Garzón [00:00:22] I...I live in Raleigh, in North Carolina, but I work in Dunn, which is a very rural area of Sampson County, most people think it's Harnett. But we are in a weird part of the Dunn where we're actually in Sampson County. It's a very rural area. Our office is completely surrounded by fields. Yep.

Sophie Therber [00:00:49] And have you always lived in that area, or are you originally from somewhere else?

Lariza Garzón [00:00:53] I'm originally from Colombia in South America. I moved to the US in '99, and I lived in Florida for a while and then I moved to Mexico and then I moved to North Carolina, where I've been for around six, seven years.

Sophie Therber [00:01:11] What influenced your decision to move to North Carolina?

Lariza Garzón [00:01:14] I found a job.

Sophie Therber [00:01:18] And what was it like to kind of be arriving in North Carolina after having lived in so many different places?

Lariza Garzón [00:01:25] It was very shocking, I think, that I had been living -- well, I have lived in Colombia first, in a big city, and then I moved to Florida and I lived in central Florida, where there's a lot of diversity. And then I moved to Mexico, to Oaxaca, and then moving here, it was just very shocking. I had never really experienced being a minority the way that I did here in North Carolina, where there are less spaces for immigrants to live their culture and experience their culture, and it was a rough transition, but I eventually got used to it.

Sophie Therber [00:02:15] And do you think that that's something that's still true today, that there is not a lot of space for immigrants, or have you seen that change since you arrived here in North Carolina?

Lariza Garzón [00:02:25] I think that there is more and more immigrants every time, but I don't really think that there's a lot of spaces for immigrants to really be their authentic self. I think that unlike other areas, like if you go to a big city, you'll find like, you know, Latinx neighborhoods or culture centers or museums or community centers and stuff like that, and I don't think there's a lot of that here in North Carolina.

Sophie Therber [00:02:59] And when you said you moved here for a job, is that the same job that you have now with the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry or was that a different job?

Lariza Garzón [00:03:06] That was a different job.

Sophie Therber [00:03:09] And can you tell me about that? I mean, what made you begin to start working at the Episcopal -- Episcopal Farmworker Ministries? Excuse me.

Lariza Garzón [00:03:17] Yeah. So I was invited to speak at a board meeting of the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, and it was their annual retreat. I went to do a presentation about immigrants and farm workers and got to meet the board. And I thought they were great. And somebody from the board contacted me when there was this opening and they encouraged me to apply. And that's kind of how I ended up applying for this job. And it was something that I feel like it was a really good fit because I had a lot of experience with programs and just kind of like...big-picture projects, you know, so it made sense to me to take on this new position and yeah.

Sophie Therber [00:04:12] And before you started working in your current position, did you have experience working with farmworker community or was that a new community for you to be working with?

Lariza Garzón [00:04:21] No, I had experience. Basically, when I went to college, I..really, I had moved to the US in '99 and I was in college, maybe it was probably, like, around 2004, and I really wanted to go do a semester abroad in Spain and I needed just a couple of credits to be able to go. And so I looked for a class that looked really easy. And what I found was this class called internship in a Mexican-American community. And I didn't really know what it was about, really. I just signed up because the only requirement was to speak Spanish and I spoke Spanish as a first language. And so, I ended up taking this class, and my first day at this community with my internship was very shocking because there had been a series of hurricanes that had gone through Florida. This was when Floyd took place, and there were a lot of people that needed help, other people in poverty, a lot of Latinos in poverty who couldn't read or write, and my job, my first day was to help them be able to get some aid from different organizations that were there. And that same day, I learned that there was a grower that they didn't want people to go find help because they were more worried about the crops that were rotting in the fields because of the rain. And it was just a really shocking experience. And so, I've been working with farm workers ever since. I actually never even made it to Spain. I decided to go abroad to Mexico. That was the first time I went to Mexico because I was really curious and I wanted to learn more about why people were migrating and how life was there. And I've been working with this population ever since.

Sophie Therber [00:06:33] That's really interesting, especially the part about -- you were saying that there were growers who were kind of not really caring as much about the farm workers that they were working with, but caring more about the food and the crops. Can you tell me more about that? What was that like to be to be witnessing that and working with that kind of situation?

Lariza Garzón [00:06:53] I mean, for me, it was really shocking because I had -- I didn't have that many years here in the US, and so I thought about poverty very differently. Like, I thought that poverty in the US didn't ever look like poverty did back in Colombia. And when I went to this community, I realized people could be just as poor and people could be just as marginalized. Just the fact that people didn't know how to read and write was very shocking to me. And then to know that there were employers who really didn't care about the people that worked for them, but that they cared more about their profit. I mean, it was not, like, a new concept, but it was just a new low. You know, like I -- there must be an article about how they told the Red Cross to leave because the Red Cross was giving hot meals and they were just so upset that people were lining up for hot meals instead of being in the fields. And it was just really heartbreaking. That was my very first day. And I remember that part of the class, you were supposed to do like a little reflection and submit it online. And mine was super long. I was just...really touched by that experience, I think I'll never forget it.

Sophie Therber [00:08:12] So how do you feel that what you learned on that trip, I mean, you said that it was it was unforgettable and that you kind of had this reconceptualization of poverty in the US.; how do you feel that what you learned on that internship and on that trip has informed the work that you've done since then?

• Lariza Garzón [00:08:28] Well, I kind of never left that community. I think that a few things really...merged [laughs] in my life, like one was just realizing, this realization about poverty that I just shared with you. The second thing was feeling a really, really strong connection with the community. My family in Colombia, you know, used to go to small towns all the time and had really strong connections with small towns that were close to the city where we lived. And so I just felt like that same warmth and human...the quality of the humanity, of the people. It just reminded me a lot about being home. And I was very homesick at the time, and so I really found the community that resonated with me and that made me feel like there was a space for me here. And I think...It was just very touching, not just because I was watching poverty as an outsider, but also because I felt like these were my people and I needed to do something for them, you know? And so, I could have done a lot of other things. I actually remember that I was working for the Democratic Party after I graduated college, and there was a point where I could choose either job with them or a job with community, you know. And I chose to work with the community and I never really have left. And so, I think I just feel like a really strong commitment to bringing dignity and justice to the community that, you know, a community that I just admire so much and that has been so great to me personally.

Sophie Therber [00:10:36] That's amazing that you've been involved with that community so long, and I was really interested in what you were saying about just the humanity there and feeling that you belong there. That's really interesting. Can you tell me a little bit more just about your day-to-day tasks with the Episcopal Farmworkers Ministry? What kind of things, issues have you addressed there? What kinds of people are you working with?

Lariza Garzón [00:10:59] Yeah. Well, my job has kind of shifted through the time that I've been with the organization. I started in 2018, three days before the hurricanes.

Sophie Therber [00:11:10] Wow.

Lariza Garzón [00:11:11] So it was that first year. 2018 was literally just doing emergency work. At the time, there were only two people in the organization, my coworker Juan and I that were doing that on-the-ground work. And it was just, like, brutal [laughs], you know, 14-hour days trying to get supplies to people, trying to get folks with transportation so they could go back home and medication and air mattresses and trying to figure out how to help people whose homes were damaged and all that. And so I did a lot of on-the-ground work that first year, like, those first four months. And then for 2019, I kind of was able to take a step back because the emergency was not as bad, things have gotten a little bit of back to normal. So I did some fundraising. I was working a lot in internal policies, working a lot on program evaluation, and figuring out how to move forward with the organization to make sure that it was, like, the best that it could be. And then 2020, we had a lot of dreams for it. We had hired more people. [laughs] And then COVID happened. And so, we kind of had to be flexible again and reimagine our programs. So basically, as the executive director, that is what I do and what I've done the most. I've done some of the groundwork, but for the most part, I'm just there to support staff, to fundraise, to work with the board, to evaluate, to connect folks with the organization. And the truth is that what I like the most is to be with the community members. So it's really funny that this is my job because more and more, I do less direct work with the community members. But one of the things that makes me really happy about it is that I've been able to hire folks from the community. So my satisfaction is to see that we're building leadership and resilience within the community, folks that are going to stay there for a long time, because that's where their families are, that's where they have been for a long time, and they get to do the work that I love, and I get to see them grow as leaders. And so that is kind of, like, where I'm at right now. I don't know if that answered your question because I kind of went all over the place.

Sophie Therber [00:13:49] No, I appreciate it. That's super helpful. And it sounds like your job has changed so much from when you started. I kind of want to go back to when you said that you started and then three days later, there were, the hurricanes hit. So what do you think that the -- how do you feel was the greatest challenge in the organization's response to the hurricanes? What was the most difficult about that?

Lariza Garzón [00:14:12] We didn't really have a hurricane program, or like, a disaster response program. Like, most of our programs at the Ministry, we started doing the work because there is a gap and there is a need. And at the time we -- I can tell you, like I wrote a grant on my very first day of work, and the hurricane hit, and the Saturday after I was already on a -- with my friend, actually -- driving a van full of supplies, visiting camps, because I knew for a fact that there were people that didn't even know that there was a hurricane coming. I knew that they were going to be people that were in really bad shape. And so, I would say the biggest challenge was not having a program that was...that was official, and being very new to the organization and not really knowing a lot about the Ministry at the time and not having enough staff, it was just two of us, just doing so much work. I remember by the end of the year, I, like, my muscles were so defined, [laughs] my arms and stuff. Because I just remember, I was lifting stuff day and night, you know? Just doing a lot of the work. But when I think about it, it just makes me really happy because I realize the community came together. We couldn't have done the work that we were doing if it was just the two of us. We actually had over a hundred volunteers, lots of community members that were great, that even though they had damage in their own home or had suffered in some way because of the disaster, they were really taking community leadership roles and connecting us with other folks in their community who also had needs and lots of people from the churches and from the community, the greater community that made donations, lots of organizations that worked with us, like doing outreach. It was just a really great community effort. And it was very inspiring. I think I was in a way, very lucky that that was the beginning of my time at the Ministry because it allowed me to see what was possible, and I saw what was possible with very little coordination because I had just gotten there. So, I was able to like imagine future projects with like, more, more time and more resources and more intentionality. I just got like a taste of what community could do together. And it was great.

Sophie Therber [00:16:52] That's amazing. So, if you were to talk to somebody who had never experienced, like, hurricane damage before, how would you describe the -- just the level of destruction to the farmworker communities, to somebody who had never really experienced that before?

Lariza Garzón [00:17:15] Farm workers live with poverty wages, so they don't have savings to really cover any type of emergencies that come up. And when there's a disaster, they not only experience damage in their homes or their vehicles, they also experience sudden loss of work and loss of income. So not only are they have a need for more income, but they actually don't have any income, and I think that's what makes it very difficult for all low-income workers and all of the low-income families that experience disasters, particularly with farm workers. The work is over because the crops get damaged. And so, many of the workers that were here with guest worker visas had to go home early without the income that they were counting on. Many of the migrant workers from Florida didn't have a way to go back to Florida. We actually had to buy them bus tickets. Many of the people in the community didn't have a stove or refrigerator anymore or like a safe house because of the reality that they're facing. And unfortunately, the laws are so unfair. Here in North Carolina, if you don't have a driver's license, you're not allowed to -- if you're not [documented], you're not allowed to have a driver's license. So a lot of the community members live in trailer parks. Well, you can't put your trailer to your name unless you have a driver's license because it's considered a vehicle. And so, if they couldn't have the trailer to their name, they couldn't get help from any organization to do home repairs. Or if they were undocumented, they didn't really qualify for a lot of the help because most of the money for disaster repairs comes from the federal government. And you must be you must be documented to be able to receive that help. And so it's just a lot, just thinking about poverty. They already -- the fact that they already lived in substandard housing that is not made to withstand strong winds and water. The fact that there's no job security, there's no benefits, that they can't qualify for help, that a lot of the organizations won't help them because they don't have papers, is just a lot. And then, like, the trauma, the trauma that comes with that. The children that can't sleep with the lights off anymore, they don't want to have toys anymore because they know they're going to get attached and they're going to lose them in a hurricane, the trauma of seeing your house being destroyed. To all of that, I would like to add that there had been some raids, some immigration raids, just like a couple of weeks ago, and people were already like dealing with so much fear. So many people didn't go to shelters because the police parked in front of the shelters here in North Carolina. It's just a lot, it's just a lot that I don't think, I don't think most folks think about when they hear about a hurricane coming.

Sophie Therber [00:20:31] Right, and I think it's really important, I mean, what you were mentioning about the trauma, I think that's something that definitely isn't always thought about or remembered in just discussing disaster --excuse me, responses to disasters such as hurricanes. That's really interesting.

Lariza Garzón [00:20:47] Yeah, we actually realized that there were no mental health services available to the community like some of the clinics had, but there were no Spanish-speaking therapists, a lot of the people told us, like it's really hard to speak with a therapist when you have a machine that is, like, basically interpreting what you're saying and doesn't feel great, or you have some interpreter on the phone and it's really hard to get an appointment, or it's just not accessible to us. And that was one of the things that we're very happy to say, that ever since we identified that need, we've been able to partner with El Futuro to provide free therapy in Spanish. And I think it's been a great service, not just because there have been people that have benefited by taking, you know, making individual appointments or group appointments, but because we've been able to talk about mental health to the community and educate folks that it's not about being crazy, but it's about dealing with trauma, dealing with anxiety, dealing with depression and things like that, and especially with COVID, that it was also really helpful to us to have that program because we were able to connect with people and offer them something that was very much needed.

Sophie Therber [00:22:08] Did any of what you learned with your experience addressing trauma in regards to hurricane damage carry over to addressing any kind of trauma that you may have witnessed because of the pandemic more recently?

Lariza Garzón [00:22:23] I mean, everything is related. I think that, you know, a lot of the people that, first, really wanted to talk about the pandemic, ended up taking therapy, not -- sorry, I said the pandemic, but I meant the hurricane. They ended up talking to their therapist about the trauma of migrating to the US, the trauma of being in an abusive work environment. It just all kind of like is connected, you know, and I think in the, especially in the immigrant community here in the US, we have this communal trauma that we never talk about, all these experiences that the community has endured for so long. But that is very taboo to bring up. People feel like they're leaving all these different things in isolation, including the pandemic, right? Women that had to stop working, and the income went down, and children that were stuck at home and in very small homes where they didn't really have the space or the technology or anything like that to succeed in school. And all of these things are...experiences that a lot of people in the community...experience. And so, we have this collective trauma that we don't really talk about all that much, but that I think is really important to bring up, and that I think that through our work, that is something else that we're trying to do. We're trying to heal as a community. We're trying to use those stories and those experiences to make sure that they never happen again, so that we can advocate, so that people can advocate to improve their own lives, so that they can change hearts and minds. Only time will tell, right? But that is part of what we're trying to do.

Sophie Therber [00:24:29] I really like your point that there are so many different layers of trauma that people are experiencing and that they're all related to each other. So, if your organization could have more support at addressing this collective communal trauma, what would those supports look like?

Lariza Garzón [00:24:45] I think that we are trying to figure out what are some, like, healing processes that community members can go through. You know, we try to open these different spaces at the ministry. Like just yesterday there was one workshop about hearing with empathy and asking folks for what you need, and so because we through our work end up sharing so much about our personal experiences, this workshop was about, like, how to tell people what we need when you share something that is traumatic. Do you need people to give you advice? Do you need people to just listen? Do you need people to give you a hug? [laughs] What is it that you need? And also, like, to listen with empathy. So you're not...comparing your experience to other people or, you know, doing all these things that we just kind of inherently do, because that's what we've been taught. And I think that's one way to heal, right, when we really listen to one another, when we ask people what we need and people give it to us and we realize -- one of the most important things for me is realize -- that people realize that this experiences didn't to happen to them in isolation. It wasn't just your family. You shouldn't be embarrassed. You know? People didn't have the same experiences, but they had different -- they had similar experiences. And that is what allows us to be a strong, resilient community because we can empathize with those that are suffering. We can empathize with those that are being abused at work. We can do something about it together because now we realize that we have these in common. And so I think the mental health piece is really important. I think the spiritual piece is really important and I think the community organizing the healing piece is really important. All these things are going to work together to create a powerful, strong, resilient community.

Sophie Therber [00:26:57] That's a really interesting point, just using empathy as a tool for healing just so that the community can become more resilient. That's that's really interesting to me. And I'm especially interested in the part that's about, like, asking for what you need. Can you tell me a little bit more about that, like you were saying about how asking for a good response when you're telling somebody some -- excuse me, telling somebody something traumatic? But can you tell me more just about that concept of asking for what you need for that kind of healing?

Lariza Garzón [00:27:28] Well, we just started these workshops yesterday, but I think the idea is that we don't re-traumatize people when they're sharing. Right. So, like if you said, you know, "I was walking down the street, and this dog bit me and I was very scared," that you can say, you know, "I just need people to listen to me talk about it. Like, I just really feel like I need to talk about it." As opposed to, like, people saying, "Well, that's not so bad. I mean, I got bit by a tiger." [laughs] I don't know, I'm making this up, right? It just, it can re-traumatize you because you need to be validated. And so that's why it's important to express your needs, because it validates your experience. It makes you feel seen. It makes you feel supported. Right? As opposed to...either people being uncomfortable and not saying anything and you feeling bad because you said something, you know, it's just like all these other scenarios that don't empower you as a person, but do the opposite, if that makes sense.

Sophie Therber [00:28:33] Yeah, that definitely makes sense. And that's really interesting. And I think the idea about re-traumatizing somebody by having a response to what they're saying is especially interesting to me. I want to switch gears a little bit, because you said something really interesting early on about your role at the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, and that was you were saying that 2019 was more back to normal, and then in 2020 everything, you had to shift gears so quickly because of the pandemic. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that was like to just kind of have to change what you were doing so quickly in response to everything that was happening in early 2020?

Lariza Garzón [00:29:13] Yeah, like, 2019 was kind of like my year to figure out like what was going on and what could we do and what works, what doesn't work. I think as a as a leader of an organization, the first year is always that. You don't want to come to an organization and say, like, "This is what I want to do, and this is all the changes that you need to make," because you haven't been there. You're not a part of that community. So we had a lot of plans for 2020. In 2019, we started doing different things that I thought were really good for the community. Like, for example, we had these monthly celebrations. So, somebody might say, "That's, like, so excessive to have a community celebration every month." Well, one of the things I realized was, like, people didn't know each other. These are rural areas. Housing is not always, you know, close to the people in your community, like [laughs]. Or maybe you know your neighbors in your trailer park, but you don't know anybody else. And like I mentioned before, there's not, like, this barrio, or this community center, or this cultural center where people can get together and listen to their music and enjoy their themselves authentically. And so that's what we try to do. We were lie having monthly celebrations and creating community, creating bonds, creating relationships between people, evaluating our program, changing the ways that we were doing things. So, for example, I'll give you an example. With the food distributions we use to make food boxes. By the end of 2019, we had purchased shopping carts so people could choose the products that they wanted to take home. So it felt more like a shopping experience than like this is your food box charity type of thing. We had done all these little changes. And so, 2020 was really when we were going to implement a lot of these these changes and these new programs and this new project. And then, in March, we had done our monthly celebration in February for...what is it called? St. Valentine's -- no! Valentine's Day, sorry.

Sophie Therber [00:31:32] It's okay!

Sophie Therber [00:31:33] And we had the one for March. It was a health fair. Basically, it was March 15th and that's when we decided to close the office. That was the day we didn't have it. And we had to switch gears real quick. We had to decide which programs would go away. So ESL classes went away, trips for children went away, community celebrations went away. Right? Like, all these things that required a lot of in-person stuff went away. And we decided, okay, this is going to be just like the hurricanes. We need to switch gears. How are we going to respond? People are not going to have money. All these restaurants are closing. Construction is not happening. The farmers are not planting as much. People are not going to have jobs. What are we going to do? We started collecting money for an emergency fund at the time. We also knew that the government was just going to be for documented folks. And so we were trying to be creative, like trying to figure out like, okay, so how do we help our community? How do we help these people? And it was really cool. In just a few weeks, we collected $60,000 from small donations. I think there was a $10,000 grant there, so might have been, like, 50. But it was people that wanted to donate their stimulus check for somebody else who needed it. People that made $25 donations. We collected enough money to help 600 families with $500 checks. And then we got, with time, we ended up getting more grants, and I think we've helped over 700 families now, and for those that died of COVID, we were giving a thousand dollars to their families. Our emergency fund has been only for agricultural workers and their families. So, that was something we did really quickly then, we food was going to be an issue. So we started doing food distributions. We used to do once -- the food distributions used to happen once a month, and we would do between 90 to 120 families. We're still doing them right now. We do them twice a month now and we get between 250 to 300 families per event every two weeks. So, that was, like, a huge change. Like, the first time that we did a food distribution after the pandemic, after we closed the office for the pandemic, the line was three miles long. You could see it on Google Maps. We had to turn people away. We were not prepared. We did not know what we were dealing with that day [laughs] when we prepped, but we got it right and now it's a fast process, and people are still coming for help. And I think what people don't realize is that even though a lot of the jobs have opened again, people acquired debt during those first months, and people had extra expenses, and people lost income because a lot of the moms had to stop working, and so many people didn't get paid for quarantine. It's just like an ongoing kind of situation that people are still having to deal with. And then, you know, we realized that nobody was doing outreach in the community, educating people about the pandemic. So we started doing that. We created a community leadership team with 10 people who are from the community and trained them on the pandemic and started doing outreach door-to-door with them. The team got vaccinated in February, and they started doing the door-to-door visits. They also visited laundromats and tiendas and bakeries and different things like that. And then we started doing vaccination events, and there have been over a thousand vaccinations administered in our events. And I always feel very proud about that because we're not a clinic, we're not a health organization, and we're doing the work that a lot of these places refused to do. And I think it's great that people trust us enough that they would like to get vaccinated with us. So a lot of our work right now is focused on COVID. We're still doing disaster work. We still have a women's group. We still have mental health services. Everything is related, though. You know, mental health now is more for people who we're feeling very isolated or very stressed or, you know, got sick with COVID or whatever. The disaster work is still for people that haven't been able to recover from the hurricanes, but under that umbrella, we have the COVID response program because this is a disaster, even though it's not a hurricane, right? The women's group had to adapt. We used to have stuff that would take place in-person. Well, the women got organized. They started teaching each other different skills, like how to cook different things and how to make different things through Zoom. We started a women's circle, also, to talk about what it what it's like to be a woman and how that -- what that means for each one of us. That's also done through Zoom. We did some classes through Zoom, workshops through Zoom, Facebook live. Food distribution became kind of like not just a food distribution event, but information. Like, so many people, government agencies, other organizations, they would all come to our events to get to people because we would get so many families in one day. So everything has just kind of evolved and adapted to the pandemic, really. But the cool thing is that we continue to grow and people continue to get involved, and that's what makes our work possible.

Sophie Therber [00:37:47] That's so interesting to me that, I mean, you had to stop the monthly celebrations because of COVID, but then people still were able to come together as a community and raise that $60,000 so quickly. That's so amazing to me. What are other ways that you feel like you've seen the community kind of coming together and that kind of way?

Lariza Garzón [00:38:12] I mean, we are a small organization, and we do [a] crazy amount of work. Everything that we do requires community participation. And I think that's the beauty of it, whether it is people from the community itself that come to volunteer, like right now, every Friday, there's women from the community that go to sort clothes and food and hygiene items and work, basically. They volunteer to make sure that we can do our work. Or funders or church people. It's just constant. We just had an event -- [laughs] this is really cute, too. So, one of the events that we used to do before, like in 2019, right? Every month we would have this celebration and we would have one for back-to-school. That would always happen in July. We would do a back-to-school party and we would have piñatas the for the kids and contests and everything, and then they would go in the building and they would get a backpack with school supplies. And we would give supplies to like, 250 kids. And it was a great, it was a great day. Right. Well, during the pandemic that list was 450, and we did not think we were going to do it last year. It was just like, how are we going to get 450 backpacks? We absolutely got them. All these churches got together. They put together the backpacks, we distributed them via, like, drive-through, and it was great. This year, the demand was even higher because what happened during the pandemic also is that more people got to connect through us, to us, you know. And so, the demand was higher and we were able to collect supplies for 1000 kids. So last Saturday, we distributed the first 500. We're doing the second 500 on August 14th. And we did, we knew that we couldn't do like in-person, especially with Delta. Like, you know, having a bunch of kids around was a terrible idea. But we got really creative, and we dressed up like, you know, TV characters and set up different stations. I think it was, like, 16 stations where people would stop in their car and they would get information about different programs and supplies and backpacks and lemonade. And so the cool thing is that, you know, we had, like, 40 volunteers for this event just last Saturday.

Sophie Therber [00:40:57] Wow.

Lariza Garzón [00:40:57] The pandemic doesn't stop people from doing the right thing. It's always a community effort and it always works, only because community members are involved. And that's what's really inspiring about this work. There's a lot of heartbreaking stuff, but the humanity that you see, the resilience, the solidarity that you see is what really, you know, stays with you.

Sophie Therber [00:41:29] That is so heartwarming, especially the part [both laugh] where you said that you decided to dress up as different characters, that's so -- that's such a good idea. And that's really amazing that you were able to think of that response on the fly after having to adapt so much. I mean, just not being able to do anything in-person. That alone is a huge challenge. And that just in conjunction with all of the other challenges that you and your organization and the community as a whole have faced, that's really amazing.

Lariza Garzón [00:41:59] Yeah, we had a great time.

Sophie Therber [00:42:03] So, you said that when COVID first -- the pandemic first was happening, and your office closed on March 15th, the thinking was: this is going to be just like the hurricanes. Can you tell me some of the ways that your organization's response to the hurricanes has been similar to your organization's response to COVID?

Lariza Garzón [00:42:25] We used the same model. We used the same exact model. We had community members doing door-to-door education. We've done that for hurricanes. We've done that for COVID. When it was the hurricanes, they were teaching people how to have an emergency kit and how to get alerts and information. Now, it was like how to use your mask. You know, what to do if your employee doesn't pay your quarantine. Where to look for help and where to get vaccinated. What questions do you have? [laughs] You know, like, do you need food? It's been exactly the same model. One hundred percent. Rely on community members that know what's going on. Most of the people right now that -- you know, for the first program in 2019, it was folks that had been directly affected by the hurricanes. Our group of promoters right now are people that had COVID and work in agriculture, or like are, [...] how do you, essential workers. Because that's the thing, they can tell us what's going on. It has to be that way because otherwise, we sit in an office and we decide what people need. That never works. You need to know from the people what they need. And so, a good example. When we were working on hurricanes, the Red Cross would drop like hundreds of buckets of cleaning supplies in our office. And we were all like, "We don't need this." You know, we don't need this. Like, what people need is X, Y, Z. How do we know? Because we are working with ten community leaders who are going to their neighbors' homes, who are going here and there, and they're finding out for us, and they're gathering data, and we respond to the needs. We don't come up with solutions without knowing. And it's the same thing here. We were able to establish really quickly, like what are the things that people are scared of for the vaccine? Who are the bad employers that are not providing masks? Who do we need to talk to, to put pressure on those employers like? You know...a lot of the work that we're doing is exactly the same model because also with that information, we can do advocacy better, and we do advocacy with the community leaders so they can speak exactly about what's going on in a way that we would never be able to do, that. We are providing direct services. We are providing community education. We are providing leadership development to the community leaders. And then, the advocacy piece is also really important because we've met with the governor's office, we've met with DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services], we've met with the Department of Agriculture, et cetera, et cetera. People in the community are having access to these government representatives to really speak about what's going on in ways that nobody else could and I don't think that Episcopal Farmworker Ministry is going to solve the issue of the pandemic any time soon [laughs], but I think what we're doing is that we're building leadership in these communities so that when there's another pandemic, they're going to be in a better place to face the challenges. And we are encouraging people to get vaccinated, just like we were encouraging people to put together an emergency kit with the hope that. We don't get to decide for people, we don't pressure them, we give them accurate information because this community doesn't usually have access to accurate information in their language. They can understand, and we trust that they will make the best decision for themselves and for their families. And that's what we're seeing.

Sophie Therber [00:46:25] That example about the Red Cross dropping off so many materials that weren't even needed by organization is really powerful. Are there other instances where or other organizations or even government actors or other actors like that have tried to provide for your organization and the farmworker community, but just been a little bit out of touch with what's actually needed?

Lariza Garzón [00:46:51] I kind of feel bad about using the Red Cross as an example, because they do so much for the community, especially in times of need, but I think there is always that disconnect, right? Like, I remember another thing that happened with a pandemic in the beginning was that someone in the government, I can't even remember what agency, they decided that in order to protect guest workers who were coming here from Mexico, that they would only allow one person in each camp to go shopping, and that they would provide these letters that people could show the cashier that were saying they were shopping for the whole camp, right? Now, imagine the mental health impact that these would have on workers, maybe if you're sitting in an office, you're thinking, this is great. That's the best solution. Give me just a second.

Sophie Therber [00:47:51] Oh, yeah, for sure. [pause]

Lariza Garzón [00:47:56] So you might think like, "Oh, yeah, we're protecting workers, we're doing great." Well, these workers, imagine, work and live with the same people. Every single day of their lives, they don't have any privacy. They're literally working all day long with the same people that they live with. And the only day and the only experience that they have where they get to see other folks is when they go shopping. And not only that, but they don't have control over so many things in their life, they don't control their schedule, they don't control their movements because they don't have transportation, they don't control so many things about their lives. And now they won't even be able to control the food that they buy. They have to tell somebody else to buy them something. But it might not be the brand or the variety or the kind of things that they like. It was, it was just heartbreaking to hear government officials talk about protecting workers, in a way that felt like it was very paternalistic to me, because you wouldn't do that, you wouldn't say like, "Okay, now all the doctors, we need to all very healthy, so we're not going to let you go shopping." So there's stuff like that that always comes up that is just very well-intentioned, but at the end of the day does more harm than good, right? I think that happens because folks don't take the time to really get to know the community or because historically those relationships don't exist. Like, the pandemic kind of highlighted that. It's not that government officials are bad, it's just that this community has been so marginalized and they're never taken into account. And so now we needed these essential workers, and nobody really knew anything about them because nobody has ever put a place on the table for them, you know?

Sophie Therber [00:49:59] Right, and I think that that story illustrates a really significant part of dealing with the disasters, which is the lack of control that people feel that they have over their everyday lives and their choices. And then that just kind of being increased by, as you said, the government response kind of eroding the few areas where they do have control. So that's really interesting.

Lariza Garzón [00:50:23] Yeah, there's a lot of of that that takes place, you know. But I think that's why there's agencies like us like we can say, "Hold on a moment, [laughs] these are the reasons why this won't be a good idea." And whether or not they listen to us, that's a whole nother thing.

Sophie Therber [00:50:46] Do you feel that when you say that things like that aren't a good idea, has that been received well? Do people listen?

Lariza Garzón [00:50:54] Some people do, and some people don't.

Sophie Therber [00:50:59] Right. Is there any way, I mean, just in general, how do you feel that the governmental agencies or other kind of larger organizations have received feedback from organizations like Episcopal Farmworker Ministry?

Lariza Garzón [00:51:21] I think that at least in North Carolina, the interest of businesses has been the priority over the safety of essential workers, and I think I say that knowing that there have been incredible efforts on the part of some of the agencies to get folks vaccinated and to provide support, but I think that more could be done if we held employers responsible for some of the working conditions that could affect the health of workers. And I think that the government is not willing to do that.

Sophie Therber [00:52:05] Well, thank you so much for that response. I think that's really interesting and that's really helpful and especially what you were saying about just North Carolina kind of placing the interests of businesses over the safety of essential workers. Is there anything that you would like to add for this interview before I stop the recording?

Lariza Garzón [00:52:22] That's all. Thank you so much.

Sophie Therber [00:52:23] Okay, awesome. I'm going to go ahead and stop the recording in just a moment.