Supporting Long Sleeve Relief Drive and farmworkers is not a difficult concept or task, just ask St. Joseph kindergarteners in Stuart
ORLANDO | Some Zoom meetings are more interesting than others. Such was the case when Florida Catholic Media spoke with the kindergartners of St. Joseph School in Stuart Feb. 28.
Teachers Tracy Hofmann and Tanya McDaniels sat on chairs in the background as students sat on the floor along with Sister Anita Gabarczyk, CACh, who serves as kindergarten assistant. Full of energy and smiles, the youngsters were eager to talk — not about videos or sports or music, but how and why to support farmworkers.
That might be a heady subject for 6-year-olds, but one child after another came up to the camera, their face taking over the frame showing their wide eyes, and spoke in simple words why the Long Sleeve Relief drive is so important.
“Farmworkers work on farms and help grow food for us,” said Julia.
“Farmworkers give us food. They give to us and others. I like helping them back,” said Lake.
Joseph spoke about giving shirts and was asked “Is it easy to support farmworkers?” “Yes. It’s easy to do and it’s something everyone should do.”
“I give shirts because farmworkers don’t have enough money to get so many long sleeve shirts,” said Ronan, who was also asked, “Why do they need so many long sleeve shirts?”
“It protects them from the sun,” he quickly replied.
There was no prompting from the teachers as they spoke. The children spoke from the heart and were confident about their answers.
Hofmann and McDaniels invited Florida Catholic Media after sending in photos of the hundreds of shirts donated by school families. Now in its 18th year, the Florida Catholic Media sponsors the Long Sleeve Relief Drive to benefit farmworkers. It officially began Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22) and runs through Holy Thursday (April 6). The focus of the drive is to donate clean, used or new men’s and women’s cotton long-sleeve shirts that can be used in the fields. Rough working conditions, exposure to weather, many washings, etc., create an ever-present need for long-sleeve shirts, which protect workers from bites and stings from various insects, and from contamination from sprays that help protect crops.
Hofmann said St. Joseph in Stuart had adopted the drive years ago as the focus for the kindergarten social justice project. Every grade level is tasked to choose a social justice project to embody part of the school’s mission statement: “encouraging service to others.”
“We truly live our mission statement, here at St. Joseph,” said Hoffman, who added this is the first time since COVID the school has been able to go full force with the drive. “(Social justice) is so easy to teach to these kids. They are the most caring human beings.”
This is McDaniels first year teaching kindergarten at St. Joseph, and the response to the project proves to her that the students understand the lessons taught.
“We had talked a lot about what farmworkers do for us. How much they give us and how we want to be thankful for that. We talked about Florida and how hot it gets and how farmworkers needs the long sleeve shirts for the sun protection and keep themselves cool,” McDaniels said. “It touched my heart because there are so many caring students who brought in shirts, and are so willing to help people in need. It was great seeing how much they cared.”
And the kids not only brought in clothes, they also folded and sorted shirts, with the help of Sister Gabarczyk. Close to 400 shirts have been collected, and the drive still has a month to go.
After the interview was complete, the day continued and closed as it typically does — with prayer. Hofmann told Florida Catholic Media during the week of the interview the prayer theme was care for creation, and on Feb. 28 the class focused on trees.
“It was a perfect way to end the day,” Hofmann said. “We talked about the farmworkers who take care of the trees and pick the tree so they could have fresh fruit in their lunch boxes. And they prayed and gave thanks to farmworkers.”
Those are the lessons they will remember, Hofmann said. Those are the lessons they will take with them “from year to year.”
And that’s the purpose of Long Sleeve Relief. Create awareness and inspire action.