BRADENTON, Fla. — Produce industry people that hit the greens on April 17 raised $76,000 to help send children of migrant workers to college.

Sunripe golf benefit raises scholarship money

Doug Ohlemeier

Joe Esformes (center), managing partner and co-owner of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, Fla., and Liz Esformes, vice president and co-owner, talk with migrant worker students benefiting from scholarship monies provided by Pacific Tomato and other tomato industry people. The 11th year of the Sunripe Golf Classic held April 17 in Bradenton, Fla., generates funds to help educate children of migrant farmworkers.

During the 11th Sunripe Golf Classic on April 17, nearly 130 golfers teed off to financially support the Sunripe Migrant Scholarship Fund endowment at the Tampa-based University of South Florida College of Education.

Joe Esformes, managing partner and co-owner of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, one of the benefit’s sponsors, said the sponsors are proud to be associated with the university and helping it serve more migrant worker students.

“The university has become a major force (in this effort). It is so gratifying to be able to make a change in peoples’ lives,” he said. “That’s what it is all about.”

The Sunripe-funded endowment has $1.2 million, which trains migrant worker students to become teachers in schools near production areas such as Belle Glade, Immokalee and Wimauma.,

“We are so indebted to you and your generosity and support you have shown for migrant worker education,” Colleen Kennedy, the university’s dean of the College of Education, told participants. “Your contributions are making a difference.”

Maria Rodriguez, 24, who graduated from the migrant teacher program last fall and is teaching reading to Wimauma elementary migrant students, tearfully thanked the benefit supporters and told them how amazing it is for her to be able to teach students from her background.

“It’s a remarkable experience as they’re in that same classroom where I sat,” she said. “Whenever we sit down and talk about their education, a lot of the kids are unsure about what they should do with their lives. I tell them that I was in their shoes in the fifth grade in the classroom where I now teach. They’re so fascinated by the fact that I grew up and went there. It really motivates them to try hard.”

Tom O’Brien, president of C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc., has participated in every Sunripe benefit.

“Investing in our workers is an investment in our business,” he said. “It’s the trickle-down theory. These workers will tell their friends in Mexico that they can come here and work and their next generation will be educated. The bottom line is we need migrant labor.”

The family owners of Pacific Tomato; Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee; Heller Bros. Packing Corp., Winter Garden; and Pacific Triple E Produce Corp., Tracy, Calif.; pay for tournament expenses so all contributions go to the education program.

Other companies, including Temple-Inland Inc., Austin, Texas; Catalytic Generators LLC, Norfolk, Va.; and Famous Software LLC, Fresno, Calif.; sponsor the event, at the Arnold Palmer-designed Legacy Golf Club.