Just minutes away from the prosperous California coast, Salinas Valley is a whole different landscape. Nicknamed “America’s Salad Bowl,” the fertile soil of this famous valley produces bountiful harvests of lettuce, spinach, strawberries and more, all destined for dinner tables across the nation.
Imagine the disparity then, of the field hands who work these vast agricultural tracts. Despite the abundance of food surrounding them, they have barely enough to eat. Most have emigrated from Mexico and make less than $10,000 per year, which they often send to needy relatives back home. It is against this backdrop that Sister Sandra Ann Silva, SHF, pastoral coordinator of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Watsonville, California, has dedicated her life’s work.
Sister Sandra’s social outreach ministry is an oasis to the hundreds of people she serves, most of whom suffer from rampant poverty, illiteracy, a lack of health insurance and substandard housing.
The people Sister Sandra visits often live with other families in garages or trailers with no plumbing. Although many were baptized Catholic, they have had virtually no faith formation. “So I go knocking on doors,” said Sister Sandra. On her home visits, she brings food, toothbrushes and blankets, along with a Bible and some basic catechism for the children.
Last year, Catholic Extension donors provided $35,000 worth of funding to pay Sister Sandra’s salary and program expenses. “Without Catholic Extension, I wouldn’t be able to work with those who are the most neglected and the most preyed upon,” she said.
Sister Sandra is also building the faith one family at a time, providing Bible classes and religious education for children, teens, young adults and adults. What’s more, she’s advocating to make their lives better within the legal, health care and social services arenas. She even hosts weekly sewing classes to offer an opportunity for women to find support and friendship.
Because of Sister Sandra’s compassionate ministry, an often forgotten group of people is being made to feel welcome in the Diocese of Monterey and, more importantly, in the Church.