Maui Economic Opportunity collected 158 shirts for the National Long Sleeve Shirt Drive, aimed at protecting farmworkers from pesticides and heat in the fields, from March 26 to April 2.
MEO works with farmworkers and farms statewide through the National Farmworker Jobs Program, offering clothing, job training and employment. The long-sleeve shirt drive was part of National Farmworker Awareness Week. In addition to collecting protective shirts for farmworkers, the drive brought attention to occupational hazards in the fields.
Eight drop off locations were secured in all four counties statewide, including MEO offices on Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i and Valley Isle Federal Credit Union. Shirts also were collected at the Hispanic Resource Fair at MEO in Wailuku on March 26 in conjunction with the visit of the Mexican Consulate.
With a long history supporting farmworkers, MEO is the Hawaii grantee for the federal NFJP program; it is the only statewide program MEO administers. More than 2,500 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families have been assisted by NFJP through MEO’s efforts.
In March 1975, MEO launched the “Seasonally Employed Farmworkers Program” with 18 participants during the vibrant days of the sugar and pineapple industries on Maui. Farmworker programs have had different names through the years – Job Training Partnership Act Seasonally Employed Farmworkers Program and Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers program.
Through the 1980s, MEO assisted a couple hundred Filipino farmworkers each year with education and medical assistance, child care, English as a Second Language and job placement, resulting in higher wages and benefits. A shortage of field workers in the 1990s developed with the pull of the visitor industry, leading Maui Pineapple Co., Wailuku Agribusiness and independent farmers to bring in migrant and seasonal farmworkers through the Rocky Mountain High Coalition in a partnership administered by MEO.
The program assisted migrants by placing them in jobs in the fields, canneries and machine shops and helping them obtain Commercial Driver Licenses and heavy equipment operator and welding certifications. Migrants were provided dormitory-style housing by Maui Pineapple, and MEO staff assisted with permanent housing, education, industry certifications, child care, ESL and citizenship classes and acculturation. With MEO’s assistance, many of the migrants became citizens.
Today, more than 10 percent of Maui’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino and many of them have ties to the migrant workers brought to Maui from Mexico.
For more information about NFJP, call (808) 243-4369 or go to the MEO’s website at www.meoinc.org.