Coronavirus kindness: Bay Area seamstresses work around the clock to make face masks for farmworkers

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- Even though she is cooped up in her small apartment in Montara, life is very busy right now for Lilian Argueta.

She has been making face masks almost non-stop since last Monday.

"We are in quarantine, but they can't rest," said Lilian Argueta in Spanish. She is making the masks for farmworkers. Even though they are considered low-skilled workers, their labor is essential but many are picking fruit and vegetables without any personal protective equipment.

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Farmworkers face an increased risk from the novel coronavirus. Working in dusty fields and around pesticides puts them at increased risk for respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis. But a third of them are uninsured. More than half are undocumented, so they don't qualify for any relief from the CARES Act. That's where people like Argueta stepped up.

She was among a group of women recruited last week by ALAS, a community organization in Half Moon Bay.



"We were getting lots of workers telling us how worried they were that they were out in the fields working and also out in the community working without protection," said ALAS founder Belinda Hernandez Arriaga.

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In just five days, the women were able to make and distribute 500 masks.

ALAS was able to begin the campaign through a seed grant from the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, which provided money for them to buy supplies.

Argueta was happy to help out. She had a small sewing business in Honduras, but had not used sewing machine in the two years she has been living in the United States.

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ALAS lent her a sewing machine and she has made more than 200 masks in one week.

"I am very happy to be helping people who need masks. Maybe they don't have the means to buy one or to make one, but fortunately I have a bit of that talent," said Argueta.



The masks are being handed out to farm workers along the San Mateo Coast.

"Everybody is very glad that they are receiving the masks, said Joaquin Jimenez of ALAS. He drives around in his blue truck to hand deliver the masks at local farms where laborers can live in housing resembling barracks.

"They are close quarters. They have a common kitchen, a common living room, a common bathroom. Now they have access to a mask if they need to use it," said Jimenez.

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Farmworkers aren't the only ones benefiting. Masks are being handed out to other low-paid workers who must continue working during the pandemic. They are people like store clerks, fast food workers, janitors, and gardeners.

"We are getting requests from all around asking for masks. We are getting them out to as many people as we can," said Hernandez-Arriaga. Workers who need a mask can request one by calling 650-560-8947 or emailing cecilia@alasdreams.com.

ALAS is seeking donations to buy more supplies to make masks and to also pay a stipend to the women making the masks. The public can also order a mask for $15 to help fund the venture.

For more information, visit the ALAS website.

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