In early 2021, when the migrant workers were coming to Niagara-on-the-Lake in southwestern Ontario to start working on local farms, COVID-19 had closed or limited the operating hours of thrift stores and retail outlets.
It was difficult for the workers to buy work clothes, household items and basic groceries. Of the 2,000 workers that come to the area, about 40 of this number are women. Although food and hot meals were being dropped off at the end of farm driveways, several women in the community saw the need to organize a central location where the migrant workers could do their own shopping.
In July of last year, a portable room that was parked beside Cornerstone Community Church in Virgil was opened up as the Farmworkers Hub. The Hub is part of Niagara Community Partners, which is supported by Kairos Canada's Empowering Temporary Foreign Workers Project, which is funded by the Government of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
In order to set up the Farmworkers Hub with clothes and household items, the call went out into the community for donations. Through the generosity of many, the portable room was well stocked. Each worker was able to choose three items of clothing, three household items and toiletries, at no cost to them. With the high cost of travel and groceries, this helped the workers to save more money to send home, instead of spending it on items here.
In October 2021, the Farmworkers Hub was able to move inside the church building, providing it with a much larger area of operations, thanks to a federal grant from Kairos Canada. Donations and grants help pay rent to the church for the use of this space.
Julia Buxton-Cox, the director of the Hub, says, “It is all about serving our friends on the farms while they are here. It is to help make life better for the workers while they are away from their families.”
Pastor Michelle Mercer of Gateway Community Church, Donna Brown of the Caribbean Workers Outreach Program, Jane Andres of Niagara Workers Welcome, the Farmworkers Hub and Southridge Church in Vineland are part of Niagara Community Partners, a group of like-minded people who support the migrant workers.
The Hub is staffed by 38 volunteers, who sort through the items and assist the workers at the store when it is open on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. This is also the day when the workers go to the bank and to the grocery store. The Bikes for Farm Workers program is also open at this same time.
Last year, 1,900 migrant workers went to the Hub, selecting some 5,000 items. In May of this year alone, 503 had already made use of the facility.
Other groups and companies also partner with the Hub, including a large shoe chain that donated 700 pairs of safety boots to the workers so far this year.