Beatriz Rangel is laying her father, Saul Longoria Sanchez, to rest today at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Greeley.
A dozen grieving family members will be socially distanced around his grave, his daughter said, even though nearly 900 people said they wanted to be there. They'll have to say a prayer and weep alone in their cars.
That's how we live now.
"My dad was a selfless man," Rangel said on a phone call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. "He gave a lot. He was encouraging. He was loving. He was a hard-working man. He had the same story as a lot of migrants do, coming here wanting a better life for his family."
Sanchez worked at the local JBS meat packing plant for 30 years. He raised six kids here, and he enjoyed his 13 grandchildren. He was 78, so he worked long after most would have retired. Sanchez preached the value of education to his family, then did the work to get his high school diploma at 60 years old, because he wasn't one to lose hope, and maybe that's why he liked cards, sports and prayer.
"He was the light and heart of our family," Rangel said.
He is one of three workers at the plant, so far, who have died from COVID-19, one of 30 who tested positive for the illness. The massive plant and major employer is shut down now, and the vice president and governor are involved in making sure there are tests and personal protective equipment for the meat workers.
The president and vice president have both talked about the plant in updates on the pandemic, though Trump thought the plant was in Denver.
"Because in Denver, I said, ‘What’s going on?’" Trump said last Friday. "We’re looking at this graph where everything is looking beautiful and it’s coming down, and then you’ve got this one spike. I said, ‘What happened to Denver?’"
Gov. Jared Polis tried to calm a nervous public by saying there's no evidence the meat handled at the plant could make customers sick. I believe him — Polis doesn't lack the talent for candor — but there's a lot we didn't know about the coronavirus until we learned differently the hard way. There's still more we'll learn.
I'd greatly prefer the people who handle my food have every opportunity to avoid getting sick, but all I can do is wash and hope.
Risk to our food, in health or supply, should command everybody's attention. You can do without a tiger king but as a professional tomato picker in my youth, I'm here to tell you America needs tomato pickers (and meat cutters and the rest). They need to be as safe as possible, but we still need them to do their jobs.
Our health and our society depend on it.
The most recent coronavirus relief package includes $9.5 billion in assistance to agricultural producers and another $14 billion for the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp., another safety net. It's not too much to expect for the government to use some of the money to secure the food chain's labor.
Those who work on America's supply lines are critical, especially right now as our economy wobbles and panic waits just over the horizon. I'll take a trucker over a politician any day, if I'm choosing the company I keep. The language is more colorful and the observations are more honest.
Kim Cordova is the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 of Colorado, which represents a labor force of about 23,000, including about 3,000 workers at JBS.
The Greeley plant is one of the state's largest employers, and one of the largest protein producers in the world. With a workforce of 6,000, it has more people than Vail, Breckenridge, Salida and Yuma.
Cordova said there was no special equipment to protect workers, even notices on the wall or social distancing to speak of.
"Workers in that industry work almost elbow to elbow," she said.
JBS voluntarily shut down this week to reassess its operations, and no doubt due to the bad PR.
The company is donating $90,000 to the Greeley Personal Isolation Facility to take care of COVID-19 patients to preserve hospital space for the critically ill.
“While the Greeley beef facility is critical to the U.S. food supply and local producers, the continued spread of coronavirus in Weld County requires decisive action,” Andre Nogueira, the CEO of the company, said in a statement. “As a leading member of this community, we believe we must do our part to support our local health professionals and first responders leading the fight against coronavirus.”
Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the son of farmworkers, told Rangel, "Your father is our father" Tuesday afternoon.
The league wants those in the food industry, documented or not, to be recognized as front-line workers during the pandemic, including a pathway to citizenship.
That, however, is an unrealistic political ask, especially for this president, but it's a issue that could factor into deciding the race for the White House in November. "Our country is full," President Trump said on the southern border a year ago.
However, in February President Trump was in talks with Democrats to create new categories of temporary worker visas or lengthen the allotted stays.
Garcia said without farmworkers a lot more people will feel the pain, and not just those who are sick.
"If you thought fighting for toilet paper and paper towels was a big deal, wait 'til it’s the last pork chop," Garcia said.