Through generous community and church donations, the Migrant Worker Ministry provides clothing, hot meals and other items to the agricultural workers who come to Durham Region each year to work in the apple orchards, greenhouses and on family farms. The region welcomes 2,000 to 3,000 workers each year.
The workers begin arriving in January, mainly from Mexico as well as the Caribbean, and the numbers swell in May and June. In previous years, the Rev. Augusto Núñez, the incumbent of St. Saviour, Orono, would deliver meals, non-perishable foods and clothing to the farms, sometimes working late into the night to reach all the farms. However, the number of farms and workers served by the ministry continues to grow each year.
“We just keep growing in regards to numbers,” says Mr. Núñez. “Either I get invited because people know me and tell me there are some migrant workers in this farm, or sometimes the fellows move from working in one farm and end up in another. I continue to be in touch with them through Facebook, text messages, phone calls or WhatsApp. They let me know where they are, and when I arrive at a new farm, I meet other workers who are interested in the ministry.”
In 2022, the ministry served about 350 men. To continue growing and ensure the ministry is sustainable in the long term, Mr. Núñez’s vision has been to turn St. Saviour’s into a “hub.” The church has started to offer drive-through hot meals once a month, where workers come to St. Saviour’s to collect their meal instead of having them delivered to the farms. The meals are cooked at the church, and partners working with the ministry take turns to prepare them. On average, the ministry provides about 70 hot meals each month, and Mr. Núñez tries to ensure that each month a farm is selected to receive the meals so that everyone is taken care of. The hub also provides donated clothing and other items.
In addition to helping the workers with practical needs, Mr. Núñez is available to discuss any pastoral concerns with them. He invites them to join the Sunday service at St. Saviour’s. The service is bilingual, with parts of the liturgy and sermon translated into Spanish.
Before the pandemic, Mr. Núñez organized large monthly gatherings for workers from different farms to come together, eat and play sports. The gatherings stopped during the pandemic and have yet to be revived, but Mr. Núñez continues to visit the farms and has been able to join the workers for their own celebrations, such as Mexican Independence Day. As the ministry moves towards being a hub for the workers, it will provide additional opportunities for the men to meet and socialize.
The ministry is also growing in terms of the number of parishes that want to support it — and not just Anglican parishes but also United, Presbyterian and Evangelical churches. Other partners have also come on board, including ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), which sponsored one of the hot meals.
ADRA has proved a useful connection, as Mr. Núñez hopes that next year the ministry will provide the workers with access to a doctor, who will be available once or twice a month. Through their relief network, ADRA is supporting the ministry in finding a doctor. This idea was partly inspired by the Diocese of Niagara’s Migrant Farmworkers Project, led by the Rev. Antonio Illas.
The workers themselves continue to express their gratitude for the ministry. “Usually, at the end of the season, I collect testimonies from them and they express their thanks to the ministry and the partners for remembering them,” says Mr. Núñez. “They’re far from home and it’s nice for a group of people to remember them and offer them a sense of community. Some of the workers are on small family farms that can be isolated.
“We can see how the Lord is using us to pray for them and to encourage them,” he adds. “That’s, at the bottom line, what our work is: to bring Christ’s love to them, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. That’s what he has told us to be and that’s our mission in this ministry.”