Long days picking crops, in all kinds of weather, isn’t a very popular prospect.
“If you speak to farmers, they can’t get Americans to do this job,” remarked Mary Crosley, who chairs the peace-and-justice committee at Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Parish.
On the other hand, Crosley said, migrant farmworkers accept such grueling work while receiving scant recognition in return. Without them, the fresh vegetables and fruits that area residents enjoy wouldn’t be nearly as accessible, she added.
To note the migrants’ contributions, volunteers from St. Catherine staged an annual welcoming event Aug. 25 for workers and their families. It took place at a migrant camp in King Ferry, approximately 20 miles north of St. Catherine, where volunteers provided dinner and hospitality for the facility’s nearly 80 residents. Many had recently arrived in southwest Cayuga County to harvest the corn crop at area farms.
“It went very, very well,” Crosley said of the gathering. “It’s our small effort to help welcome the people who feed us, literally.”
An inspiring event
St. Catherine of Siena’s volunteers purchased, delivered and served a full dinner featuring chicken parmesan as the main course. The meal took place in the camp’s community room, where the migrants — who are primarily from Mexico — displayed a large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, their patron saint. Crosley noted that several of the helpers are fluent in Spanish and took extra time after dinner to socialize with the camp residents.
“The people who went as volunteers just thought it was a wonderful event. It was uplifting, was the way they put it,” Crosley said. “It’s just gratifying to see how a simple action like serving food can inspire people.” `
She added that she encountered positive feedback from the migrant workers: “They were very, very, very appreciative.”
St. Catherine of Siena has a longtime involvement with the annual dinner, which was making its return in 2023 after a three-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Crosley noted that in addition to supplying volunteers, the Tompkins County parish supports the event through a number of monetary donations.
Lest we forget
According to Crosley, the King Ferry workers are in Cayuga County on a three-month federal H-2A visa program, which allows for foreign nationals to fill temporary agricultural jobs in the United States. She said that one camp resident told her he was depending on his farm-labor income to support his wife and 1-year-old child back in Mexico: “It’s the only way he could provide for his family.”
Crosley observed that since personal transportation for the migrants is sparse, their daily existence is spent largely in isolation.
“They are forgotten most of the time; they’re hidden away in the camp,” she said, adding that this reality requires an extra effort by the local community to ensure the workers have adequate care and support.
Crosley also noted that St. Catherine of Siena is part of the Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance, an ecumenical community group that aids immigrants who are fleeing violence or are in danger of deportation. She remarked that her parish opts to be neighborly toward people from other countries, rather than ignore or disdain them.
“There’s so much hate in the this world. We’d like to do something a little more positive,” she said.