Many farm workers who live in Niagara-on-the-Lake seasonally have never made it to Old Town – this Sunday, 40 Mexican workers will head to the cenotaph to experience downtown’s holiday spirit for themselves during the annual Christmas tree lighting.
Julia Buxton-Cox, who arranged to bring them to Queen Street, said she was inspired by the efforts of Niagara Workers Welcome founder Jane Andres and touched by the tragic death of Mexican farm worker Zenaida this past summer; she said she wanted to reach out to help any way she could.
Armed with what little Spanish she knows, she said she's connected with a group of women farm workers over the last couple months. She’s been driving them to run errands and spending time with them socially.
“I’ve been creating my relationship specifically with the women. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for them – which was awesome. We did the full turkey deal – the whole traditional thing,” Buxton-Cox said.
“I do it with the underlying message – which is “We appreciate you and the work you’re doing.” It’s all about creating a relationship.”
Buxton-Cox said she approached Barry Wilding who drives a school bus – he arranged for the bus and will donate his time to bring them to Queen Street for the tree lighting. She wanted to arrange a thank you for them for Christmas, she said, and the tree lighting presented a perfect opportunity.
“I think that there’s a real shift in town that people want to know more – and they want to get more involved. We have about 2,000 farm workers who come here annually. Instead of just passing them in the grocery store and saying “Ola” or “Hi,” some of these people need actual help,” she said.
And though she said she’s happy to bring the 24 women and offer them her time, she regrets she can’t do more for all the farm workers in town. Right now limited resources prevent her from doing more, but she said she hopes that will change as the message spreads.
“We’re just trying to do something that’s manageable right now – this is the first time we’ve ever done it,” she added.
“I would love to take all the farm workers that stay for Christmas. The hope is to grow and to create community and relationships, so they know how much we appreciate them.”
She’s enlisted the help of a pastor from a local church, who she said speaks Spanish and can help with translations.
She’s also reached out to Lord Mayor Betty Disero, who she said plans to acknowledge and thank the farm workers during a speech at the tree lighting ceremony.
And while bringing the women down to the ceremony and offering her time is a start, she said she would like to do more.
Partnering with Andres, she's working on getting the word out about farm worker welcome kits, which Andres has been putting together. Buxton-Cox said she is sending out an information page about cost of the kits and how they can help farm workers.
“It’s a way to offer them something over the holiday season,” she said.
Money can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, using the password “Welcome” to purchase kits, which will be distributed in February 2020.
Sending $25 will fund one kit; $50 for two; $35 for one kit and a reflective vest; $70 for two kits and two reflective vests; and $100 will fun three kits and three vests.
The Lake Report has some empty bags at the office if people would like to fill their own kits, which can be dropped off to a location which will be announced soon.
Kits should be filled with heavy duty work gloves, thermal work socks, a new washcloth, hand towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper roll, Tylenol travel pack, instant chicken soup package, granola bar and Band-Aids. And a personal welcome note is always a special touch.
**Correction – an earlier version of this story stated 24 Mexican women farmworkers would be driven to the cenotaph for the tree lighting. It will actually be 40 women and men.