By Rev. Andrew Wilson
When we at St. John the Evangelist, Leamington say ‘ministry,’ knowing the area we live, it is often followed by ‘migrant workers.’
Leamington sees its population increase by 12,000 at the height of the season. There are nearly 3,000 acres under glass, at $1.4 million per acre, with hundreds of acres always under consideration. This does not even consider the acres in Kingsville and other areas, and other types of farms.
I probably need two full pages to tell you everything from the point of view of the workers and the group that seeks to care for them, you can find that at www.migrantworkercommunityprogram.com. The mission of the MWCP is “to provide a more positive balance to the life of the migrant worker by offering social, cultural, recreational and communication opportunities and to build cultural bridges with host community.” This is further broken down to Welcome, Hospitality and Gratitude.
To do this, a space was needed. Perry Pawliuk, member of St. John the Divine Orthodox Church and member of the MWCP approached St. John’s looking for space to offer hospitality. He was referred to us as a church that is involved in the community and who seeks to do more. So he called, and we found a way to offer our space for an afternoon. Our parishioners responded with gifts in kind and offering their time, inviting people in as they walked downtown to spend some of the $64 million dollars in the core, estimated at $600 per person per month.
“We are a group with a passion to help others and do things right”, says Perry pointing out that migration workers provide a big benefit to our town.
Over the years, our town has seen waves of different immigrant populations that have brought change, because they brought different ways of doing things, and great benefits as they built businesses and sent their children to school. “This is why we need to care for our guests and show gratitude for all they bring to us”, explains Perry.
As Bill Dunn, Board Member and Council Member for Leamington warns, the challenges these people face are huge:
“Imagine not speaking the language, starting in winter unprepared for the cold, doing minimum wage jobs, important to our community, that would otherwise be unfilled. We need to open our arms in friendship and fellowship for people who bring such value to our economy. This is Spirit at work as God intended, bringing people together.”
People at the MWCP know that changing our attitude requires time. For now, assistance and hospitality are seen as priority.
As I write these words, there are three young women speaking Spanish, receiving some pamphlets, snacking and playing dominoes. A volunteer migrant worker sits with them, conversing in Spanish and offering them the hospital’s Spanish pamphlet health-aide services and contact information. He is volunteering in community to enable himself to meet a requirement to obtain landed immigrant status.
We have had over forty in our hall: relaxing, eating, receiving help if needed, hoping to win a bike – MWCP has a volunteer who refurbishes them for free (23 in 2019). The bikes come through one of our many community partners, in this case the OPP, who bring the bikes that have been abandoned. The Migrant Worker Outreach is Sundays, bi-weekly. We offer food and clothing and information on bike and worker safety. There is recreation, comradery, tea and coffee.
When I say we: we have volunteers who come in, bringing their Spanish skills, students who want to help with translation and one who wants to tell the story as part of their skills requirement for school. Members stand outside the church in the cold or sun inviting people in. Lastly, Deacon Debbie and I come and stay when we can, smiles always, prayers if desired.
Rev. Andrew Wilson is the rector of St. John the Evangelist, Leamington.