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HELP KEEPS HOPE ALIVE

Rosio Olivarez has little left at home in Wachula.

Her cupboards are empty. Her three children need clean clothes. Hurricanes have damaged her home and curtailed the amount of farm work that the single mother needs to survive.

"We are in a crisis," said Olivarez, 35, sighing heavily.

Olivarez, who is struggling with immigration paperwork, didn't know where to turn. Then she heard that help could be found an hour away at the Good Samaritan Mission in Wimauma.

On Tuesday, she made the journey with four friends and two of their children. They sat quietly in the pews at the front of the rural mission's chapel, with about a dozen farm workers from regions hit hard by Hurricanes Charley and Frances.

Help was on the way.

On this day, the answer to their prayers came from more than 60 second-graders from Bell Shoals Baptist Academy who arrived with eggs, corn flour for tortillas and cooking oil.

The extra provisions would help see the mission through the week. After that, mission leaders hope someone else sends food. It's the only way they can keep supplies flowing, as a steady flow of farm workers impacted by hurricanes head to Wimauma for help.

"Today, we gave them eggs. This may not happen again until next year," Dora Cruz, the mission's volunteer educator, told students from Bell Shoals. She thanked the children for their generousity. The class' annual field trip could not have come at a better time.

Each week the mission typically serves about 400 families, mostly from around southeast Hillsborough County. Last week, it welcomed almost 100 people from places such as Lakeland, Mulberry and Frostproof. By Tuesday, another 30 farm workers had arrived from other areas.

In many cases, help is available locally. But the mission has found that a number of illegal immigrants are afraid to report storm damage to authorities.

"They're afraid to come forward," said Sonia Dominguez, a case manager with the Hispanic Services Council who helps at the Wimauma mission. "So they come here with so many needs."

Her eyes fixed on a small child without shoes. This week, the mission had received a donation of Wal-Mart gift certificates to give to visitors who lost belongings in the hurricanes. The Good Samaritan Mission also offered two food baskets to people from storm-damaged areas. The contents vary each week.

Other local agencies that serve farm workers have seen increased demand following the storms, although none has been as hard-hit as the Good Samaritan Mission.

At the Catholic Charities' San Jose Mission in Dover, local residents who lost electricity during Frances have been showing up at the food pantry to restock their refrigerators.

The lost contents "don't sound like a lot," said Arnold Andrews, executive director of the Catholic Charities Diocese in St. Petersburg. "But it's a lot to them."

Arnold worried that the local toll from the storm damage would not be seen until citrus and strawberry crops are harvested this winter. A lackluster harvest would spell disaster for many local families, even those not immediately impacted by the storms.

Work already is a problem in the hard-hit areas. Farm workers say that heavy rainfall and storm damage has cut back on the planting jobs typically available at this time.

Having escaped damage, some can't afford to keep roofs over their heads.

When Margarita Reyes could not find work to pay her rent in Wachula, she and several friends packed into a car and drove to Wimauma. She sought whatever help she could find at the Good Samaritan Mission. She left with bags stuffed with eggs, beans, flour and oil.

"It is the help of the Gods," said Reyes, 34. "We needed this."

_ Letitia Stein can be reached at 661-2443 or lsteinsptimes.com.

HOW TO HELP:

The Good Samaritan Mission in Wimauma is seeking contributions of the following items:

+ Flour (Maseca brand flour is preferred for tortillas), Oil, Rice, Pinto beans, Eggs, Diapers in all sizes and wet wipes, Baby formula, Canned goods

+ Donations can be delivered to the mission at 14920 Balm-Wimauma Road in Wimauma. Send monetary donations to P.O. Box 213; Balm, FL 33503, with instructions on how to spend the money. For more information, contact the mission at 634-7136.

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