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Oregon woman raises thousands of dollars to provide hydroflasks for orchard workers

A woman and her cousin helped raise funds to provide orchard workers with hydroflasks, insulated water bottles that keep water cooler for longer.

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — After Oregon's record-breaking heat wave, a woman and her cousin started a donation fund that raised thousands of dollars to provide hydroflasks, insulated water bottles that keep water cooler for longer, for orchard workers.

Cielo Rivera, home from college for the summer, was looking for a little extra money. So she decided to help sort cherries at an orchard in the Columbia River Gorge. She said she didn't realize what she'd signed up for.

"I thought I was dying," Rivera said. "It was so warm out, I had to take my flannel off, my hoodie off, I was just in a T-shirt and sweats and I wanted to go home."

That was before Oregon's record-setting heat wave. Rivera said temperatures when she was working were in the 80s, far below the 115-plus degree temperatures workers suffered through during the heat wave. Even working in temperatures in the 80s, Rivera said she thought she was getting heat allergies.

Rivera said she and her cousin carried ice water in hydroflasks.

"We knew it was going to start getting hotter and in the 80-degree weather, a nice cold water bottle keeps you going for the whole day," Rivera said. She said she and her cousin noticed many workers had only small cups or jugs for water, which would often be warmed up by the heat. They offered the use of their hydroflasks to the workers. 

"At the end of the day they said, 'Wow, this water is the best water we’ve had the entire picking season, because it stays nice and cool instead of really, really warm from the water jugs,'" Rivera said..

That night, the cousins created a GoFundMe to get one for each of the 150 migrant workers at the Orchard.

Credit: Cielo Rivera
Migrant Orchard workers in the Gorge

"We thought $2,500 was a lot of money to ask for," Rivera said. "When we woke up that morning at 3 a.m., it was already 75% fulfilled. We were blown away."

They bumped the goal to $6,500 and surpassed it. That’s enough for 350 hydroflasks to help workers in several different orchards in the Gorge.

Farmworkers often work through near impossible conditions to make ends meet, said Patti Verduzco, with Oregon Farmworker Union, PCUN. The advocacy group hosted vigils in honor of Sebastian Francisco Perez, the farmworker who died working in the excessive heat last month. 

Verduzco applauded Rivera's efforts and urged state officials to do more for those workers.

"We need our farm workers to have shade, clean water, a place they can rest, breaks, because it’s tough out there," she said.

Rivera said she hopes the effort continues to grow and help hundreds more.

"I’ve never been more thankful and I’m so proud that the community that I’ve grown up in is 100% behind me and making sure that these workers have the essentials," Rivera said.

After the deadly heat wave, Oregon OSHA adopted new emergency rules to help protect workers. Those include expanded access to cool water, shade and regular cool-down breaks. They'll be in place for the next 180 days as the agency develops permanent regulations this fall. 

RELATED: Oregon OSHA adopts emergency rules to protect workers from extreme heat

RELATED: 'It's a crisis': Advocates push for more protections for Oregon farmworkers after deadly heat wave

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