Vecinos, Inc. celebrates 10 years of assisting WNC farmworkers

Vecinos, Inc. celebrates 10 years with pizza, live music and a silent auction at Speedy's. Photo by: Tanner Hall

Vecinos, Inc. celebrates 10 years with pizza, live music and a silent auction at Speedy’s.
Photo by: Tanner Hall

North Carolina is home to about 150,000 farmworkers, among the largest in the country, and yet we hear so little about them. Majority of those workers speak Spanish as their native language.
Farmworkers, both in the state and throughout the country, face tough living conditions, discrimination and language-related barriers that often go unnoticed, despite North Carolina relying heavily on agriculture.

For the past 10 years Vecinos, INC. has been trying to change that for the workers in this part of WNC.

Vecinos, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of farmworkers and their families by offering primary and preventative medical outreach, health education and case management services at no cost. Last week they celebrated 10 years of working with farmworkers with a fundraiser at Speedy’s Pizza and 25 percent of sales going toward their health program.The organization serves over 650 migrant farmworkers from the Jackson, Macon, Swain and Haywood counties.

Amy Schmit, Lead Outreach Worker for Vecinos, spoke about some of the challenges they encounter.

“Groups of workers are crowded into old barns, packing houses and old hotels with too many people to a room,” said Schmit. “Many workers are not paid what they deserve, and what they are paid is not sufficient given the hard work they do. Often they are paid for the amount of a crop they pick during a day, but not for the hours it takes to pack boxes and load trucks.”

Hunger is another issue that they must overcome. “Many of our farmworker families are struggling to feed their families, which is terrible to think that the people who pick our food often do not get enough to eat,” said Schmit.

Vecinos, Inc. helps to break down some of these obstacles by doing the legwork and reaching out via mobile clinic to those that might not be aware of the services that they provide. They have a working relationship with WCU, and their partnership is only getting stronger with the addition of an administrative office space in the new Health and Human Sciences building. Vecinos, Inc. collaborates closely with the Physical Therapy department and receives help from nursing students and volunteers from Western. They will now be hosting evening clinics on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

Moving forward, the organization is looking to continue growing with the assistance of student interns and community events such as the celebration held last Sunday by Speedy’s Pizza.

“I would like to further develop our food assistance program so fewer families who work with food will continue to suffer from hunger,” said Schmit. “And of course, Vecinos will continue to be an advocate for farmworkers, a voice for them in the community. We believe they are a part of our community and hope to bridge the gap that is built by a continued system of oppression and discrimination,” she finished.

More information on farmworkers in North Carolina and the work that Vecinos, Inc. does to help can be found on their website.