By The Reverend Antonio Illas
with contributions from Gillian Doucet Campbell and Canon Christyn Perkons
The Migrant Farmworkers Project (MFWP) is a missional outreach ministry focused on building relationships with Spanish speaking seasonal workers in the Niagara peninsula. This ministry has been creating supportive spaces in which the liturgical, religious, spiritual and pastoral needs of the workers are met.
Since March 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions began to impact Ontario, MFWP has transformed the basis of these interactions to continue to respond to their needs while maintaining strict public health guidelines.
With support from the diocese, three parishes sponsor and host the MFWP activities: St. Alban’s Beamsville, St. John’s Jordan and Christ Church McNab. In a pre-COVID-19 season, Sundays saw MFWP providing for the celebration of the Eucharist in Spanish at one of these parishes, followed by a community meal giving the migrant workers time to socialize and connect with farmworkers from other farms and with the ministry volunteers. A medical clinic, clothing depot and bikes were also available depending on the site location. Access to those sites all vanished with the pandemic restrictions and so the ministry was transformed.
Early in the pandemic the volunteers and missioner learned of the vulnerability of their migrant farmworker neighbors. Although considered an essential work force and an important component in the Canadian food security link, their isolation during the early days of the pandemic really highlighted the inadequate living and working conditions for migrant farmworkers. As a result of the outcry about this injustice, new federal legislation and provincial housing guidelines are being implemented to better support temporary workers who live and work in the farmlands.
MFWP started the 2021 season in February and anticipates running the project through November. This season, the program has again been the recipient of two substantive grants. A Second Harvest $15,000.00 grant (funded by the Canadian government) will be used to provide Mexican food products, some of which are not found in the local grocery stores or are not affordable locally. These dropped-off groceries include corn tortillas, totopos (tortilla chips), tostadas, mole, maseca (corn flour), red & green hot sauce, galletas Maria (cookie), refried beans and chilorio (shredded, seasoned pork) —all tastes of home and reminders to the migrant farm workers that their preferences and their dignity matters. The migrant workers’ smiles and words of gratitude are an inspiration to the volunteers who weekly donate their time, skills and resources to serve their seasonal Spanish-speaking neighbors.
The Diocese was also delighted to receive a grant of $10,000 USD ($12,124.79 CAD) from the United Methodist Committee on Relief of Global Ministries (UMCOR) for the MFWP Bikes for Farmworkers initiative to provide safety and maintenance equipment, and Spanish language safety and bike maintenance videos along with refurbished bicycles the program has always provided. Without bicycles, farm workers are primarily dependent on their employers for rides off the farm. Bikes give the migrant farmworkers control over their travel in the community to meet their needs for food, personal care and recreation, thus preserving their dignity and their right to move freely in the community.
Volunteer bike mechanics refurbish about 100 bikes each season. If donated bikes cannot be restored to working order, they are used for parts to make other bikes roadworthy. If you have a bike that you would like to donate to this program, please contact the Rev. Antonio Illas, Migrant Farmworkers Missioner at 905 685-3500 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.migrantfarmworkers.ca
Source: Niagara Anglican Newspaper, May 27, 2021