When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ricardo Castorena decided to leave his full time job as a teacher to serve farmworkers he felt were being forgotten in central California.

Previously, the Fresno native had a full time job working as an English as a second language teacher, but once the coronavirus crisis shocked his community, he decided to use his skills as an educator to help farmworkers learn about the importance of getting tested and vaccinated.

“I feel like my classroom still exists, just in a different form. I have more students, it’s outdoors, but I still feel the same about the things that we’re teaching,” Castorena said.

What You Need To Know

  • Ricardo Castorena left his full time job as an ESL teacher to help serve farmworkers during the pandemic

  • His nonprofit organization, Binational of Central California, provides agricultural workers with PPE and COVID-19 education

  • So far, the organization has served more than 75K agricultural workers by handing out masks, hand sanitizer, and food

Over the last year, Castorena has been running his own nonprofit, Binational of Central California. Since the pandemic began, the organization has served more than 75,000 agricultural workers, providing them with protective gear like masks and hand sanitizer while they work in the fields.

“I’m grateful for people like Ricardo for thinking about us,” said one farmworker named Nicolas.

Castorena’s organization received some funding from Listos California, a government initiative to help vulnerable populations with disaster relief. However, he explained that most of the donations he’s received have come from the community. 

During the holidays, Castorena was able to hand out $250 relief checks to 120 farmworkers families. He and other local organizations have also partnered to help more than 8,000 people sign up for their COVID-19 vaccines.

“I want to make sure that they know they are important, that they matter. They are a critical piece, especially in California,” Castorena explained. “They’re important to our households even though some of us might not even realize how important they truly really are.”

As the son of immigrant farmworkers, Castorena has a special place in his heart for people like his parents who came to the United States seeking a better life for their families. He explains that he chooses to spend six days a week building relationships with agricultural workers to help uplift the community providing all Californians with food.

“Every time I go out, I want to make sure that I pay homage to my parents, and the only way I can do that is by providing a service and paying it forward to farmworkers that are just like my dad 35 years ago,” Castorena said.

He drives around agricultural areas delivering food and PPE in a van that a local radio station lent him last March. So far, he’s driven more than 25,000 miles around the Central Valley. Castorena said the vehicle has helped people feel more comfortable when he approaches.

“The van has brought me the ability to go into a field and not look intrusive, not look a little dangerous, not look so official,” Castorena added.

He notes his nonchalant way with the farmworker community has given him the ability to connect with people who don’t usually reach out for help due to their legal status.

“I feel more blessed than the people we serve because they allow me to serve them,” Castorena said. “They allow me to walk into the field and not feel uncomfortable or unwanted and that’s really important to me.”

Despite taking a significant pay cut after leaving his teaching job, Castorena said he’s never been happier and is grateful for the donations he continues to receive to help him fulfill his new mission in life.

“It doesn’t take a million dollars to make a difference. All it really takes is kindness,” Castorena said.

If you’d like to support Ricardo Castorena’s work, you can donate at ​https://connectthevalleyinc.org/donate.