A Heart Project Hijas Del Campo
marivel Mendoza’s parents came here from Mexico at the tender ages of just 17 and 18. They sustained themselves by working in the fields of Hollister, California before settling down in Oakland. The thought of her family crouched down in the dirt under the glaring sun, working toward a better future for the generations after them, has been a constant source of pride as well as motivation. Says Marivel, “All my life, I’ve never taken for granted the strife they endured, allowing me to be here today. I just knew I had to be a success to honor their sacrifices.” Not only did her parents inspire her to want to do great things, but they also made her distinctly aware of the many farm workers (or campesinos as they are called) she would see while driving through our rich agricultural community.
Dorina Moraida’s husband is a firefighter. During the constant smoke-filled skies of summer 2020, he was gone for stretches at a time while battling blazes from the front lines. Dorina had many sleepless nights that would lead to her scrolling through Facebook, keeping up to date on the fire’s progress. One night, she was struck especially hard when she saw a picture of farm workers bent over in the fields, still working in the heat while the massive fires raged in the background. That singular shot brought her to tears. She was moved to put up a Facebook post herself, asking for donations. The community rallied around her, and she began amassing water and masks for the workers.
With a pandemic ravaging our state and gray skies polluting our air, the campesinos were ever present in the fields. They were the essential workers that pulled the produce from the earth that went to the farmers’ markets and stores, keeping us nourished. Marivel decided she simply couldn’t just keep driving by the fields and not do anything for these people. She started with a simple question on Facebook, posed to the residents of Oakley and Brentwood. She asked if anyone knew of an organization that was helping the farm workers. Marivel found out there was not such a necessary entity, but because of her inquiry, she became connected to Maria Valles-Guillen who was planning a caravan to bring water to the campesinos. She also was introduced to Dorina, who had responded to Marivel’s question, “If there isn’t a place that can help them, I want to.”
““Hijas Del Campo was formed with the intention of fulfilling the very basic needs of the campesino community.”
The ladies met for the first time out in the fields. They brought the donated items and took some time to speak with the campesinos. Says Marivel, “The farms take good care of the people, they do their best. But we learned there is a lot of need in that community. The very people who were making sure the entire community had food on their tables, were going hungry themselves. That just won’t stand. Hijas Del Campo was formed with the intention of fulfilling the very basic needs of the campesino community. Food became an integral part of providing comfort to these hard workers.”
Marivel works full time as a home health professional with Kindred at Home. Dorina works full time as a paralegal. Still, these working mothers have each dedicated at least 40 hours a week to what they call their “Heart Project.” Says Dorina, “We work side by side with our husbands and children. Nights, weekends, all our free time goes toward providing for these families. Part of the beauty of giving is the reciprocal lesson we are teaching our kids—it’s the value of serving others.”
Through their efforts, they have fostered relationships with many organizations that contribute to the success of their cause. Some of their greatest support has come from various civic leaders from Oakley and Brentwood and local business owners who share their vision of providing a safety net for the campesino families. Says Marivel, “God has placed people in our path. We let our hearts lead us, and it has resulted in uniting with people who are very generous, providing great opportunities.”
They have been equally fortunate to have community support in gathering essential pantry items. The Team Jesus organization in Antioch provides a portion of the food while donations from citizens cover the remaining cost of supplying items such as beans, rice, cheese, tortillas, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, and a protein. Hijas Del Campo volunteers rotate through about 50 families each weekend, bringing them care packages of food, masks, water, and personal care products such as shampoo, laundry detergent, and soap. Donations also serve a larger purpose, providing a much-needed safety net of covering rental expenses when money is tight. Says Dorina, “The campesino community lives in a state of fear. They fear getting sick, losing money, and giving out their personal information. All the stimulus and COVID-19 relief that was available did not apply to them. Even the monthly child stimulus many US families are receiving does not go to them.”
Hijas Del Campo gained notoriety as a supportive force in the overlooked campesino community. They were invited to be part of a vaccine equity committee.
At the beginning of the pandemic, this committee was formed to bring leaders together to talk about navigating the threat and its effect on the health of people from all walks of life. Contra Costa Health Services worked through Hijas Del Campo to organize the first vaccination clinic in our area on March 20, 2021, at G&S Farms. Frog Hollow Farms hosted subsequent clinics. Says Marivel, “With significant language and technology barriers, going online to book a vaccination appointment was too hard to navigate for these people, yet as essential workers toiling in tight quarters, they needed it the most. While the Hijas Del Campo team did book appointments for those who asked, the amount of people needing service was far too great. These clinics were exactly what was needed if we were going to make the campesinos safe.”
The many heart-driven hours spent connecting resources with the recipients who needed them, have paid off. Kaiser recognized their positive influence amongst the very guarded campesinos and issued a grant to Hijas Del Campo. Through this grant, Hijas Del Campo is now able to service over 700 individuals.
That number is growing every day. Marivel shares, “We do not turn anyone away. We will go to a worker’s home, and because they trust us and know we are there to help, they will inform us of a senior they know who is hungry. We will include them in our rotation, no one is going to go hungry if we can help them.” With funding from Kaiser, they will be able to hold a special event during the holidays. Mariachi San Francisco will join forces with Al Pastor Papi’s taco truck to bring a Thanksgiving celebration to the campesino community!
The computer company Lenovo also became a benefactor through Hijas Del Campo, addressing the lack of funds for technology among the campesino households. They donated 28 laptops to children who otherwise could not complete their homework or study. In addition, the need for educational support has been addressed by Los Medanos College counselor Jessica Linares, who is helping campesino students work toward furthering their education. Says Dorina, “These children want to pay respect to their parents by achieving something, they are very motivated to do good in school; they just need some assistance. Co-founders, Amelia Villareal and Maria Valles- Guillen, have been key in supplementing their education by installing little libraries into the communities, encouraging the love of reading and making it accessible.”
“ Through their efforts, they have fost ered relationships with ma ny organizations that c ontribute to the success of their cause.”
“When so much good has been done to raise up such a vast community, people are going to take notice.”
When so much good has been done to raise up such a vast community, people are going to take notice. The East Bay Leadership Council recently honored Hijas Del Campo by awarding them with the Equity Impact Award. A grand celebration in September 2021, marked the first anniversary of the formation of this award-winning organization. Azucar Dulceria on Brentwood Boulevard hosted the outdoor event with vendors, Chrome Coffee, and a DJ with a drag show! Attendees were also able to get a vaccination from a team from La Clinica de la Raza.
Marivel reflects and is pleased with how far their organization has come since their inception, “We went from handing out water and masks, to being a lifeline for many who had severe lack. We are meeting these needs, quelling hunger and health fears and easing housing woes. But there’s still more we could do. We are currently looking for a location to call our own. There are food banks that would help us even greater if we only had a refrigeration unit. We just don’t have a facility to house it. As soon as we are able to grow, so will our outreach.”
Photos By Ron Essex