‘We’re at a standstill’: More donations needed to fill farmworker welcome kits

The production of welcome kits for farmworkers is at a standstill due to a shortage of donations.

Farmworker advocate Jane Andres and her team of volunteers are halfway to their goal of 500 welcome kits, but they need the community’s help.

Whether they’ll prepare the kits or not is fully dependent on if they have enough donations — and right now they don’t.

“Right now we are out of toothbrushes,” said Andres.

They’re going to need about 300 more toothbrushes, she said.

And while toothbrushes are top on the list, other items people can donate include: hot chocolate, toothpaste, toilet paper, hand lotion, tea bags, instant oatmeal, wash cloths, granola bars, travel-sized pain relief, hand towels, bandages, nail clippers and soup pouches.

To buy everything needed for the remaining welcome kits, they need about $1,000, Andres said.

She has been putting together the kits for about seven years. Each contains essential items for farmworkers like toothbrushes, tea, hot chocolate and toiletries.

About 30 workers from the Caribbean have arrived in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small number compared to the hundreds more who will arrive by the end of March.

If there’s one thing they look forward to every year, it’s the bright green reusable bags that read “Welcome” on the side.

For Andres, the welcome kits are a way of creating a “healthy, connected community.”

She’s been working with about five volunteers each week to assemble the kits.

Last year about 720 were given out.

Andres makes sure the welcome kits are already at the farms waiting for workers so when they get in after a long journey, they ”can have a cup of hot chocolate and a granola bar.”

She drops off the kits at the farms or employers come and pick them up.

Many seasonal workers arrive in Canada hungry and tired after spending more than 24 hours travelling.

Providing a bag full of essentials when they arrive make things a little bit easier on the workers.

Not only is their journey long, many of them are financially strapped by the time they get here, she said.

Andres says the welcome kits are more than what’s inside – it’s the concept that make a difference.

“It’s the thought that ‘We are part of this community. And we’re appreciated and welcomed,’ ” she added.

After their bag is empty, many of the workers take it back home to Jamaica.

“You’ll see somebody walking to church on a Sunday morning and carrying their Sunday shoes in a welcome bag,” Andres said with a smile.

Anyone wanting to fill their own welcome kit can pick up a bag at Applewood Hollow Bed and Breakfast on Four Mile Creek Road or Sweets & Swirls Cafe at the NOTL Community Centre.

E-transfers can also be sent to niagaraworkerswelcome@gmail.com.

“(We’re) full of gratitude for what’s coming in so far. And I can’t wait to be grateful for the next 250 (kits),” Andres said.

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report