This year will always be remembered as a year of extraordinary challenges. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, it will also be remembered as a time when a caring community shone brightly.
The delivery of more than 560 welcome kits to farm workers was a success because of the growing support of the people of this town. It has been a joy to meet so many locals who provided welcome kits for the men and women who braved a pandemic to come here and work, helping our farmers to avert a financial disaster and loss of crops.
The idea of welcome kits started from a simple observation in 2008, when my friend Jodie Godwin and I travelled to Jamaica. It was my second trip, and Jodie’s first. We stayed with farm workers and their families, travelling from Montego Bay to Kingston, visiting churches and schools along the way. Our memorable visits with their families led to a greater understanding of the many challenges farm workers face while here on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.
Every year farm workers arrive after their flights at the Virgil arena, often late at night, after an exhausting day or more of travel. They have to wait until the following day to go to the bank, get groceries and finally start cooking their first meal by the afternoon.
When we realized how long friends on neighbouring farms had to wait to get a proper meal, we began to provide soup and sandwiches on their arrival to see them through the first night.
The idea of a simple welcome kit containing essentials evolved, letting our Caribbean and Mexican neighbours know they are supported by a caring community.
The kits are easy and inexpensive to pack, as well as a fun and practical way for individuals, families, and community groups to express appreciation. A thank you note or child’s drawing adds a personal touch that many bring home to share with their families. Some of the welcome posters made by children are still there to brighten their walls years later.
More than 500 bags have been distributed each year for the past three years as the men and women arrived. Over the last two years, we partnered with Father Antonio Illas, who organizes the Migrant Workers Outreach Project through the Anglican diocese. As a result, many more Spanish speaking workers have received support.
An abundance of welcome kits was filled by community members as Christmas projects at the end of 2019. It was the beginning of an exponential show of generosity. Financial donations from the Candlelight Stroll and Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake got the new year off to a great start.
More than 300 of the welcome kits were delivered before the news of an impending pandemic descended in mid-March. Thank goodness we had stockpiled toilet paper to include in the bags, as we would never have anticipated shortages for this crucial item.
When remaining deliveries resumed later in April, safety protocols were strictly maintained, with no-contact drop offs.
Many of the workers arrived weeks late. The high stakes of leaving their families for eight months and putting their lives at risk were first and foremost on everyone’s mind. The bright green bags welcoming them on their arrival provided much appreciated essentials, and the reassurance that they were not alone.
The welcome kits have proven to be a practical way to connect with migrant farm workers in our community, helping to create a sense of connection and belonging.
The events of this past year have demonstrated how vital these connections are. Together we are a caring community.
A list of contents for kits can be found on the Niagara Workers Welcome website.
Bags can be picked up at the NOTL Public Library, Sweets & Swirls Café and Applewood Hollow Bed and Breakfast. Completed welcome kits can be dropped off at all three locations, starting Jan. 18.
For those who would like to support this successful local endeavour, a donation of $25 will provide the contents of a welcome kit for one farm worker.
Please visit our website for updated information regarding collection times and drop-off locations.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.workers