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Dec. 3, 2021 | Friday
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Bags of food and goodies greet migrant workers arriving in NOTL
Jane Andres has has spearheaded the creation of welcome bags for NOTL's migrant farmworkers. The bags are stuffed with such essentials as hot chocolate, oatmeal, toothbrushes and toilet paper. (Don Reynolds/Submitted)

Jane Andres’ living room is filled with bright green bags packed with such essentials as hot chocolate, oatmeal, toothbrushes and toilet paper. Almost every surface is piled high with the bags.

They are welcome bags for migrant farmworkers, who arrive in Niagara-on-the-Lake from January through June. Andres, who was born and raised in NOTL, says the bags are intended to show appreciation to the farmworkers, adding, “without the workers, we would have no wineries or orchards, we need to protect our farms.”

Andres designed the bags in 2017, after she spoke at the Newcomers Club at the NOTL Community Centre about supporting farmworkers and local farms. Since then, Andres says, “I have a constant stream of people coming to the door.”

Andres provides the bags and a list of what to put in them, and NOTL residents fill them up. She emphasizes “it’s a community owning all of this, it belongs to the whole community. If we affirm and welcome, we all benefit.”

Last year, more than 500 bags were distributed, and this year that number may grow. According to Andres, the growth has been “totally organic.”

She cites the example of the contribution of NOTL local Heather Doyle, who asked “members of her book club, the Dune Girls Book Club, to get involved. Each member filled a bag and their enthusiasm spilled over. Two friends told two friends and so on, and soon there were over 100 bags filled through their connections!”

Andres’ close friend Jodi Godwin is also a constant supporter and companion on this mission.

Jodi Godwin and Heather Doyle help out with welcome bags. 

Andres says the workers often travel for up to two days to get here, and may not have eaten during their journey. The welcome bags provide them with some much-needed food and toiletries to bridge the gap between when they arrive and when they can get their own groceries and supplies.  

The welcome bags are just Andres’ most recent way of expressing gratitude to the farmworkers. She became friends with many workers starting back in 2005, when she helped with music at the Caribbean Workers church services.

Since then Andres has visited her friends in Jamaica seven times. From 2007 to 2016, she organized the annual Niagara Workers Welcome Concerts and in 2017 began the Peach Pickers Picnic, which was also a great success in 2018. It is planned for Aug. 11 this summer.  

Andres says “we are here to journey together,” and muses, “NOTL is already known as the prettiest town in Canada. What if we were also known as the kindest?”

Anyone wishing to contribute to the welcome bags can arrange to get the bags and a list of supplies from Andres at