Editor’s note: This story is one in an ongoing series celebrating Yuma’s everyday heroes and their contribution to the community’s greater good.
As president of the Arizona Interagency Farmworkers Coalition (AIFC) and a descendant of migrant workers, Fernando “Fernie” Quiroz has a soft spot for the men and women of the fields. So when he noticed a line of maskless farmworkers waiting to apply for benefits at the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) office in San Luis, his concern for their wellness and safety drove him to take action.
By making phone calls to several local organizations and State Representative Charlene Fernandez, Quiroz secured about 4,000 masks to distribute “durable protection” to the workers and the DES employees assisting them — which he’s been doing between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. each day for the last week.
He’ll stop, he says, when the masks run out.
“When I look in their faces, I see my mother’s face, my uncle’s face, my brother’s face,” said Quiroz. “I know the struggles, I know what these families go through day in and day out. If we can make a small impact through something as simple as giving them a mask to protect themselves and to protect others, why not?”
Quiroz uses the pronoun “we” because of the power—and the beauty—of partnership. Although the idea may have originated with him, enlisting the help of Fernandez and organizations like Arizona Complete Health, Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) of Yuma, PPEP, Campesinos Sin Fronteras (among several others) is what made the biggest difference. Together they not only allocated thousands of masks, but bottled water and sandwiches to distribute to the workers and other individuals waiting in the long lines at DES each day as well.
“Collectively, as a group, we can do more,” Quiroz said. “We’re all trying to make a difference, and united is even better. It makes us stronger.”
According to ACF of Yuma Regional Director Veronica Shorr, all of this is “true Fernie fashion.”
“Whenever there’s a problem that affects the community, he jumps right into action,” Shorr said. “I really admire (Quiroz). He practices what he preaches, which is community, and he’s all about helping one another. For him to take the time to go and do that just speaks volumes of who he is as a person. He is a champion for everyone in the community, and it’s people like him that really inspire me to do the work that I do in this community, because we’re in it together.”
From Shorr’s vantage point as Quiroz’s friend, former coworker and fellow Sunset Health board member, his selflessness and willingness to serve his community is something that everyone can take a few notes on.
“(Quiroz) is one of the first to step up and be there to provide his support, whether it’s volunteering or moving things or fundraising,” Shorr said. “He volunteers his time without ever wanting anything in return. He truly, truly does it because he’s passionate about the community. He doesn’t have a business so he’s not selling anything, he’s not trying to attach a sponsorship to anything — it’s truly just his human nature.”
As for Quiroz, he holds to the belief that no matter where a person may be on the “ladder of success,” he or she can still “reach back and help those around them” when opportunities arise.
“It’s about the community and it’s about individuals who see a need coming together to make a difference,” Quiroz said. “It’s not about a handout, it’s about helping each other. It’s times like this that we all need to come together.”