In July, fire broke out a local farm and destroyed a barn as well as housing for workers. The workers, all from Guatemala, were relocated to new housing but lost their possessions in the fire, according to Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer for Workers’ Center of Central N.Y.
Thanks to a continual call to parishes from Paul Welch, director of Social Action Ministries for the Diocese of Syracuse, for donations of health care items such as combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and washcloths, health kits were ready for distribution to workers in need by Fuentes.
“Part of the work we do at the Workers’ Center of Central N.Y., is outreach to farms,” stated Fuentes. “We bring information to the workers about safety and we have worked closely with Paul Welch and Catholic Charities before. When Paul puts the call out for health kit supplies, it’s a nice surprise to see how quickly items are donated and kits are created and organized,” added Fuentes.
One of the major contributors to creating health kits was St. Ambrose Parish in Endicott. Mary Anne Tremblay, the parish secretary, put Welch’s request in the weekly bulletin. The response from the parish was tremendous. Within a short time hundreds of donations began arriving at the parish center and Tremblay, with members of St. Ambrose staff, began assembling health kits for future use.
“The people of St. Ambrose Parish have always responded generously whenever there has been a need in the community,” explained Father Don Bourgeois, pastor of St. Ambrose. “Whether it’s supplying health kits to those working in the fields or donating food for the Mother Teresa food pantry, the people of St. Ambrose are always ready to lend a hand to others.”
To date, Fuentes has received more than 100 health kits from parishes within the diocese, but there is still a growing need for more.
“Many of the workers who come here are seasonal workers and have very little to begin with,” explained Fuentes. “The health kits are something they have an immediate need for, and it’s also a nice way to welcome the workers into the community. The people who get [the kits] feel valued, happy and grateful that there are others who care about their safety, their health and their dignity. But there are still a lot of people in need.”
The need of the workers is a constant concern for Fuentes. Whenever she distributes the health kits she also distributes information about farm safety, OSHA regulations and workers’ rights. And despite soaring temperatures outside, Fuentes worries that many workers may not have the warm clothing necessary to work on the farms and stay healthy during the winter months.
“We are always looking for donations of gloves, hats, scarves, coats and boots for the workers,” stated Fuentes.
For parishes interested in collecting items for health kits or warm clothing for the winter months, contact Paul Welch at Social Action Ministries, (315) 470-1423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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