The May 4 issue of Canadian Mennonite stated that “Niagara United Mennonite Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, will use a grant of $5,000 to build a laundry facility for seasonal workers who come to the area each year from Jamaica and Mexico to work on local farms.”
The money is from the “Spirit of MDS Fund,” administered by Mennonite Disaster Service.
Kathy Rempel, a member of Niagara United Mennonite Church (NUMC) contacted Canadian Mennonite to provide an update, as the project has shifted to a new focus.
According to Rempel, after applying for the grant, organizers at the church spoke to landlords and consultants, and came to the conclusion that setting up a laundromat was beyond the financial means of the church.
Some farmers had also provided improved laundry facilities for their workers, so the need was less than it had been. The church put aside the laundromat idea and moved on to look at other ways to support and connect with the seasonal agricultural workers in their area.
Under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, workers from participating countries—including Mexico and Caribbean countries—can work on Canadian farms that are part of the program. They can come for a maximum of eight months per year. Their families must stay behind. Some do this for many years. Significant segments of the Canadian agricultural sector could not function without these workers. Between 50,000 and 60,000 workers participate in the program annually. The program has existed since 1966.
After the laundromat idea fell through, Rempel says her church decided to support two local groups already working with the workers. The Farmworkers Hub operates out of the Virgil campus of Cornerstone Church, though it functions as a separate entity. The organization provides used clothing, a food pantry, a social meeting place and various other services. Staff at The Farmworkers Hub suggested NUMC support the Sunday afternoon social time for the workers by providing healthy snacks and some staple foods.
Sunday afternoons are a time when workers can come to play pool, watch sports on TV, share experiences or have a quiet chat with a pastor or counsellor in a separate room. This is also a good time for interested church members to come and connect with the workers.
The other program receiving support from NUMC is the Caribbean Workers Outreach Program (CWOP), which operates out of the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus of Cornerstone Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation. This program provides workers with transportation to and from church services, in addition to organizing dominoes, cricket tournaments and other activities for workers. Members of NUMC have been involved with CWOP for some time.
Rempel says the hope is that the church can continue supporting these initiatives with money raised within the congregation once the money from MDS is spent.