Organizers of The Farmworker Hub are looking forward to their first full year in a permanent, central location, with early signs leading to a successful season.
And farmworkers arriving in Canada during a harsh, snowy winter were grateful it was there for them when it opened Sunday afternoon
Hub coordinator Julia Buxton-Cox says she couldn’t be happier about the response to their new space, on the main floor of Cornerstone Community Church in Virgil.
“It was a really good turnout Sunday,” she says, especially considering the bulk of workers has not yet arrived in Niagara.
Some of those who visited the hub are here for their first season, she says, and were especially grateful for the warm winter clothing — the recent arrivals were finding it really cold. “They were mostly looking for warm winter coats, boots, socks, hats and gloves.”
One man arrived in shorts, and picked up several pairs of pants — he and many others expressed appreciation for finding the hub operating and offering warm clothing — all of it free, helping them send more money home for their families.
When the hub opened in a portable in the church parking lot last July, it was intended to be temporary, set up quickly to respond to the lack of services for farmworkers due to the pandemic.
The Cornerstone location was considered perfect, central for the workers, near the old Virgil school where many of them go for new bikes or bike repairs, and close by for shopping, banking and other services when they get to town.
The hub has received funding through a federal grant to Kairos Canada, an ecumenical, faith-based movement for ecological justice and human rights, intended to help temporary foreign workers during the pandemic, with a focus on the agricultural sector.
The funding helped get the hub started, and along with another generous donation, has covered the rent for the church space for a couple of months. Buxton-Cox says she feels pretty secure in their current location, but donations would be welcome to help cover monthly
She would also be happy to see more volunteers, although they have a good group now.
“We saw so many happy faces Sunday,” says Buxton-Cox, adding there were several farmers who came to pick up supplies for their new arrivals. “They seem to be getting more involved, picking up welcome kits, and asking if we had certain items like work boots.”
As is the community, she adds.
“It seems like all of a sudden the community is coming together to help each other. We should be welcoming them. We are a farming community, and if our workers are happy, if they feel part of the community, they will be more likely to want to come back.”
But it’s about more than that. “We’re not just caring for them because they’re farmworkers, we’re dealing with real issues of racism and poverty. They’re not just a sector of our community. They’re our friends and neighbours. Why would we not care for them?”
The hub is keeping spring hours of Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. to ensure the workers aren’t riding their bikes in the dark, but in May they will move to Thursday evenings.
Those with items to donate can come by the hub at the Cornerstone Church on 1570 Niagara Stone Rd., in the back, Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is also a box to leave items outside those hours. They are only accepting clean and washed items. Warm clothing for men is on the top of the list of needed items — men’s jeans or work pants sizes 32 to 38, socks, coats, hats, gloves and boots.
The hub is overstocked at the moment on clothes for women, says Buxton-Cox.
They also welcome household items, although at the moment no electric appliances.
A full list of what is needed at the hub can be found on their website at thehubnotl.ca/donate.
“We’ve done a lot of hard work to get to this point,” says Buxton-Cox. “Last year we moved three times in six months, and we’re really happy with where we are now. We’re looking forward to an amazing season, going right through to the end of fall.”
The hub is also supplying information from the region about On-Demand transit, which the workers haven’t had before.
“We’re promoting it and hoping it works for them — the women especially like going to the outlet mall,” she says.
“We’re so far ahead of where we were last year. We’re very grateful for that, and looking forward to a really good year.”
The Farmworker Hub operates under the umbrella of Niagara Community Partners, in collaboration with the Gateway Community Church, which is registered as a not-for-profit, the Caribbean Workers Outreach Project (CWOP), and Niagara Workers Welcome, headed by Jane Andres.