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Half Moon Bay woman helps farmers recover from mass shooting trauma

Half Moon Bay woman helps community still grieving mass shooting
Half Moon Bay woman helps community still grieving mass shooting 03:53

Nearly a year after the mass shooting at two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, a woman and her nonprofit have been a pillar of support for the farmworker community. 

Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga shines a bright light in a time of unimaginable grief.

"There's been so many miracles we've seen, so many threads of love," she said.

Hernandez-Arriaga and her nonprofit ALAS leaped into action after a deadly shooting spree at two coastal mushroom farms a year ago in a case of suspected workplace violence. The team already knew most of the victims and their families, and they've led the way in supporting the farmworker community.

"It feels shorter than a year. It feels like it just happened. For us, and so many, and for the victims, the emotions are still very fresh in our hearts," she said.
      
Hernandez-Arriaga and ALAS are rays of comfort from their home-base in downtown Half Moon Bay - a sunshine-colored house that a donor bought for the nonprofit the first pandemic summer of 2020.

Today, they're serving twice as many people: 2,000 a week, not only with the basics, from food to healthcare and education, but also with mental health counseling.

The need for counseling has doubled after the shooting.

So Hernandez-Arraiga and ALAS launched new art and music therapy programs that help people walk and talk through their trauma using their shared cultural experiences.

"We have to be there, think about how we heal together collectively," she said.

For example, participants performed for an audience of hundreds over the holidays, showcasing what they'd learned in accordion lessons they'd taken for music therapy.

Hernandez-Arriaga also provides a space for self-expression, where Sonoqui Martinez can share songs he's written about his long life as a farmworker.

His music helped a recent audience feel they are not alone in their struggles.

"As a cultural healer singing, people were crying when he sang that night," Hernandez-Arriaga explained.

For Hernandez-Arriaga, a licensed mental health clinician, embracing the coastside farmworker community brings healing to her heart as well.

"That collective strength, the care, and my personal faith, has helped us to say, 'We'll get through this one day a time,'" she explained.

Hernandez-Arriaga says the shooting drew attention to poor farmworker living conditions. She's thankful county supervisors agreed last week to build more than 100 units of affordable housing at the site of an old nursery. And ALAS is planning on breaking ground on 45 housing units for senior citizen farmworkers.      

Meanwhile, next Tuesday, on the one year anniversary of the mass shooting, ALAS plans to unveil an art piece in its front garden as part of an evening vigil of remembrance.

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