By: Jami Anderson Lind, Executive Director, REO

To do a take on a popular children’s book -Shirts a Plenty! Shirts Galore! Shirts and Shirts and Shirts some more! Collecting long-sleeve shirts for AFOP’s Long-Sleeve Shirt Drive in March of each year has resulted in almost more shirts this year (2229) than Rural Employment Opportunities (REO) will be able to give out. REO conducts a concentrated effort each March to collect as many shirts as possible, across the entire state of Montana (147,164 square miles). These are given out to our migrant and seasonal farmworkers each year.  Understand that much of Montana is considered “frontier”, meaning that there are less than six people per square mile. So, you can imagine it takes a lot of effort for eight people (our entire staff) to develop the relationships in many communities, large, small and tiny, that allow us to gather this number of shirts. But – if eight people each get 100 shirts, your organization has 800 shirts!

Here I thought about using a “We’ve Been Everywhere” list, but I really want to talk about the most important thing our staff members found in the collection of shirts across the state: people and organizations want to help!  This opportunity is one in which everyone can contribute and it takes little time, effort, or money to do so.  We have donations of one or just a few shirts from individuals to 100’s from thrift shops and state agencies including our own Montana Department of Labor.

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The contacts we make to get the donations allow us to educate people about NFJP (National Farmworker Jobs Program) that we might never come in contact with otherwise.  This means that each donation comes with the understanding of the difference these shirts can make in the lives of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families and the difference each farmworker makes in the lives of the people of Montana. It’s a great outreach tool.

Each year REO has increased the number of collection points and, each year, our contributors are thanked and involved in the success of collecting more shirts than any other state.  It has become a competition for them and they love it. Success in collecting shirts comes down to three things:

  1. Every staff member participates. We set goals for each staff member and for the organization. We update the number of shirts gathered on a regular basis so everyone is working toward a common goal.
  2. Develop a list of who will be contacted in every community and then have each staff member add to the list with agencies, businesses or individuals that are unique to their area. Then MAKE IT EASY for people to donate! Make contact early in the month so they have time to get the shirts together, provide donations boxes, decorated appropriately, and pick up the donations wherever needed.
  3. Make it fun for staff and those who donate. Make them a part of what you are doing.  Thank them personally and through social media. They are partners in this endeavor – celebrate with them!

REO is already planning for next year. It’s on our webpage, our Facebook Page, and is becoming part of our organizational culture to do this.  In addition, and this is perhaps the most important thing, it helps our migrant and seasonal farmworkers to know that they are supported and valued across the state. The farmworkers and their families love the shirts and are incredibly appreciative of the efforts we make.  Next year we hope to have a shirt drive logo – “Rounding up the Shirts” with a cowboy lassoing a long sleeve shirt.