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Home   »   Beamsville migrant worker program opens over winter to support growing number of workers

Beamsville migrant worker program opens over winter to support growing number of workers

This article was originally published by Niagara This Week. Read the original here.

While it will be cold this winter, one Beamsville church will be warm with the sense of community, and fiery Mexican food, as a project to help migrant farm workers kicks off.

Before last year, the Migrant Farmworkers Project (MFP) only ran clinics during the summer, when most migrant workers were in Niagara.

However, Reverend Antonio Illas, who runs the MFP, said he had noticed an increase in migrant workers from Spanish-speaking countries staying in Canada over the colder months.

So last year, the decision was made to run the project over winter, and it set up shop in St. John’s Church in Jordan, and then moved to Beamsville this year.

Illas estimated that they served 130 migrant workers last winter but expects around 250 this year.

Rev. Dan Tatarnic, priest in charge of St. Alban’s church, said that because of the increase in greenhouses, they realized there was a need to open year-round.

“Part of it was awareness, that we were beginning to acquire that this is a year-round industry,” he said.

He had concerns that, since the workers aren’t seen cycling around the area and working in the farms during winter, as they are in summer, people might forget that they’re still here, playing their part in Niagara’s agriculture industry.

“It magnifies the invisibility that they’re already facing,” he said. “It further isolates them from the community, and the community from them.”

To increase links between the workers and the community, the clinic offers clothing, spiritual care, and food, thanks in part to a funding from the United Methodist Church, the local diocese, and the federal government.

Juan, a migrant worker whose last name Niagara this Week agreed to withhold, said that the support provided by the clinic was valuable for him and other migrant workers he knew.

“We use all the services,” he said, through Illas who was acting as an interpreter, “the food, the hospitality and the medical clinic.

“It helps us a lot. Sometimes (Mexican food) is quite difficult to get. It helps me to complete meals with rice, beans and jalapenos.”

Juan was also helped by the clinic’s clothing program, which provided him with work clothes and more.

“I’m taking a suitcase to my partner right now,” he said.

Juan was provided with medical care by Quest, a non-profit that partners with the MFP and St. Alban’s church.

Moises Vasquez, who provides Quest’s seasonal agricultural worker health program, said that Quest started their medical clinics in 2011, and it has gone from strength to strength. In 2011, they saw 50 migrant workers, but by 2020 they saw 592 clients across 1,750 visits.

They resumed the clinics with the MFP last year, to serve the farm workers who were mostly working in the greenhouses.

He said they treated workers for standard winter colds and respiratory conditions, but the most common complaints were musculoskeletal issues, partly caused by the nature of the work.

The clinic saw 50 patients last year, but he expects to see an increase this year.

The Quest clinics are important as they don’t require a health card. While most workers do have health cards, they can often take a while to arrive once they’re applied for.

But Quest also helps break down the language barriers to effective care, providing services in Spanish but also offering interpretation services if patients have doctor’s appointments.

An addition to the clinics at the church, they visit migrant workers on farms and at their residences. For instance, if blood work needs to be done, the team will visit the worker to take blood, so there are no concerns about getting time off work or organizing transport. Quest performed 100 such visits since the start of last season.

“Part of our role is to ensure they receive the health care that is needed,” said Vasquez.