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White House honors Presbyterian Hunger Program partner Student Action with Farmworkers

May 9, 2012

Members of the group, Student Action with Farmworkers pictured with President Obama

Cesar Chavez Champions of Change with President Obama

Louisville, Ky

Presbyterian Hunger Program’s partner, Student Action with Farmworkers, was honored at the White House. Melinda Wiggins, Director of Student Action with Farmerworkers (SAF), was one of ten leaders being recognized as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change!

 “We are so proud and grateful for the work of Ms. Wiggins and SAF over the years. Farmworkers are the lowest paid workers in the country and SAF is helping to improve conditions for them by developing young leaders committed to accompanying farmworkers as they demand better conditions and pay,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, Associate for National Hunger Concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP).

 Wiggins was honored in Washington DC alongside nine other leaders who, like Cesar Chavez, have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others throughout their community and across the nation. Cesar Estrada Chavez came of age as a migrant farmworker, witnessing the injustice that pervaded fields and vineyards across California.  Yet amidst hardship and abuse, Cesar Chavez saw the promise of change—the unlimited potential of a community organized around a common purpose.

 SAF has had a real impact on the leadership of young people in the movement for farmworker justice, particularly those from farmworkers families, and on the daily lives of thousands of workers. Into the Fields is one of the SAF programs PHP has funded in recent years.

 Lubella Torres, reflecting on her experience as an intern in the Into the Fields program said, “For many years I underestimated what my family had to go through to put food on the table and was embarrassed of what my family did for a living. I lived the life of a true farmworker’s daughter; not one portrayed in some movie with actors, but one that saw and felt it all. For me to be able to show my parents that I am willing to stand up for the farmworker and their family is one that is priceless.”

 Since 1992, more than 650 SAF interns, fellows, student organizers, and youth have provided health, legal, education, and organizing support for over 80,000 farmworkers and their family members in the Southeast. Each spring SAF coordinates a National Farmworker Awareness Week. Last year’s week of action included hundreds of events engaging well over 25,000 students and community members. In the last three years, SAF has worked in collaboration with other groups to get several bills passed through the North Carolina Legislature that improve migrant housing standards and the enforcement of housing and pesticide laws covering farmworkers. SAF has also continued its history of creating documentaries with farmworkers. SAF’s most recent traveling documentary exhibit Nuestras Historias/Nuestras Sueños has been displayed in over 15 venues in the last year, raising awareness of the hopes and dreams of immigrant farmworkers and their families.

 2011 intern, Abagail Bissette, from Warren Wilson College, speaks to the value of this work with farmworkers.

 “Advocating that farmworkers have safe, fair and sustainable work places is therefore, not only advocacy for one group of people, but also contributes to the well-being of consumers and the environment in which we live.”

 Many Presbyterian congregations have worked with SAF over the years, and college-age Presbyterians can contact SAF to apply for the Into the Fields Internship. Churches wishing to do a mission service project with SAF should contact them directly. Visit their website for contact and other information at saf-unite.org.

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