Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

The federal budget standoff cut into the pocket of an organization that helps Florida migrant worker’s children.

The state’s produce industry, however, is financially supporting the Redlands Christian Migrant Association.

The sequester stalemate cut $1.2 million out of the budget that RCMA uses to educate 7,500 children, most 5 years old and younger, in 72 child-care centers throughout Florida’s rural produce growing regions.

RCMA provides children a place to stay as well as afterschool programs while their families work the fields.

Because of the reduced operational funds, the Immokalee, Fla.-based RCMA closed a center in Ocala, Fla., and is scheduled to close others in Pahokee, Fla., and Palatka, Fla., this summer.

They were targeted because children could still attend other nearby RCMA centers, said Bill Coats, director of communications and marketing.

On May 4, Lipman in Immokalee sponsored a golf tournament benefiting the group, a first-time sponsorship for the 14-year-old event.

Lipman helped re-energize the tournament after some of the people who started it had retired or moved on to other areas, Coats said.

This year, Lipman and other grower-shippers helped the tournament generate nearly $90,000.

Those included Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., and West Coast Tomato Inc.; Naples, Fla.-based Gargiulo Inc.; A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo, Fla.; and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland.

“Lipman has supported the Redland Christian Migrant Association for a number of years and our recent Lipman Golf Classic is just one example of our ongoing commitment to them,” said Jaime Weisinger, director of community and government relations.

“Thanks to the support from our local agriculture industry … those funds will directly support RCMA’s child-care centers and charter schools.”

The tournament is the group’s biggest fundraiser and RCMA executive director Barbara Mainster said it demonstrates that grower-shippers want to be a part of something positive.


Though grants constitute up to 85% of RCMA’s budget, small, ongoing contributions remain the organization’s lifeblood and Mainster said produce industry efforts add much to the state’s largest nonprofit childcare provider.

She said the allied industry, manufacturers and distributors of chemicals, fertilizers and boxes need to become more involved.

Mainster pointed to something that originated at Wish Farms’ Strawberry Pro-Am tennis tournament, which raised more than $63,000 for RCMA in February.

Joe and Sally James of James Irrigation Inc., Dover, Fla., were involved in a past tourney and suggested the Plant City, strawberry industry host a golf benefit, Mainster said.

Last year, the tournament generated $12,000 and Mainster said the James’ are looking to make it bigger.

“Bigger than the industry support, this is really about investing in kids,” Mainster said.

“Everyone knows early childhood is critical. What we’re doing with these kids at this young age is very much of an investment.”

Whatever happens with the sequester, RCMA is expecting to serve even more farm worker children, if immigration reform prompts larger numbers of migrant families to head to Florida.

Florida’s produce industry is clearly stepping up to the plate as child-care will remain important for the state’s harvesters.

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