County Urges Volunteerism For Cesar Chavez Week

By EGP & City News Service

Supervisor Gloria Molina on Tuesday urged residents to volunteer at public libraries, food banks and homeless shelters to celebrate a week of community service dedicated to the late labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, whose March 31st birthday was made an official paid state holiday in August 2000.

The county’s 11th annual Cesar E. Chavez Community Service Week will begin Monday and run through March 30.

“Cesar Chavez is an American hero not only for his accomplishments as a labor organizer but as a civil rights leaders and non-violent protestor,” Molina said. “Cesar Chavez dedicated his life to improving the conditions of workers who harvest the food which feeds our nation. He co-founded the United Farm Workers, an organization which mobilized thousands of people into political action. He led a five-year non-violent grape boycott which captivated the nation and led to landmark worker protections.”

Molina said she could think of “no more fitting way” to honor Chavez than by dedicating a week of service to the community in his name.

Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 on a family farm near Yuma, Arizona. He was just 10 years old when his family lost its farm during the Great Depression and was forced to leave Arizona in search of work, which they found in the agricultural fields in California.

It was a hard life, following the crops, picking grapes, peas, apricots, onions, cherries, and other farm products. The work was back breaking and low-paying. With no other options, farm worker families were forced to pay to live in deplorable conditions, in shabby shacks and tents without running water or electricity, located in grower-owned migrant camps.

It was those conditions that would serve as the backdrop for Chavez’s decision in 1952 to join the Community Service Organization (CSO), a group working to inform Mexican Americans of their rights. Chavez would soon go to work full-time for CSO, serving as the organization’s national director from 1958 to 1962.

In 1962 he left CSO to focus his work on the plight of California farm workers, and with Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which would eventually become the UFW, AFL-CIO.

First with the National Farm Workers Association, and later with the UFW, Chavez would pursue unionization of agricultural farms as a way to improve the pay and working and living conditions for California farm workers. The UFW led strikes against grape and lettuce growers, as well as a national boycott of those products in the country’s urban centers.

An advocate of non-violent resistance, Chavez would more than once go on a hunger strike, fasting for weeks at a time to call attention to the plight of workers in America’s breadbasket, and the need to end the growing violence against striking workers.

At one point in 1973, more than 10,000 workers were on strike, and by 1975, more than 17 million Americans refused to buy grapes.

The UFW would go on to win a number of labor contracts with growers for the farm workers, giving them higher wages, health coverage, pension benefits and other protections.

In July and August of 1988, Chavez held his “Fast for Life,” a 36 day fast to protest the pesticide poisoning of grape workers and their children. Celebrities like Martin Sheen, Edward James Olmos and Whoopi Goldberg, would continue the fast.

Chavez died on April 23, 1993. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral in Delano, California.

To honor Chavez’s legacy of service, the County of Los Angeles conducts a number of service-oriented projects involving county workers.

Volunteers at the Weingart Center, which serves homeless people on Skid Row, will be put to work painting a floor. The Los Angeles Regional Foodbank will hold food “sort-a-thons” and will be accepting donations at multiple community locations. Participating county libraries will have volunteers assist with homework, read during story time, prepare crafts for children and sort, clean and straighten books.

Information on volunteer opportunities can be found at www.lacounty.gov.

Teachers and others who want to learn more about Chavez can download instructional materials at www.colapublib.org/chavez.

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March 22, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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