The community came together during the holiday season to help the families of two farmworkers whose lives were cut short and one who is in hospital after he was injured on the job several years ago.
An online fundraiser in December provided one month of groceries to the families of 31-year-old Kemar Campbell and 34-year-old Daniel Brown, two workers who died in their sleep last year.
Campbell was working at P.G. Enns Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake when he died in May and Brown, a former NOTL seasonal worker, died at Van Berlo Farms in Simcoe, Ont., in October.
As well, the project helped the family of Jeleel Stewart, who was permanently injured while working at a NOTL nursery in 2008, and whose health has been declining since.
Campbell and Brown worked on the same crew and would often talk about the joys of fatherhood and the worries of family separation, said Jane Andres, from Niagara Workers Welcome.
She connected with Brown’s and Campbell’s families in Jamaica through the network of farmworkers she knows through church who come from nearby towns back home.
She talked to the wives and found that their families, beyond grieving the losses of Campbell and Brown, were struggling to get by financially without them.
Andres said she wanted to support them not as a part of Niagara Workers Welcome, but as a neighbour here in NOTL.
“At this point, they haven’t received any financial assistance, so I just thought I was going to do what I could,” she said.
The money was raised over a few weeks — the fundraiser met its goal and Andres was able to provide one month of groceries and other necessities to the three families.
The recipients asked that the total amount raised remain private due to privacy concerns.
Brown leaves behind two young daughters, a four-year-old and a baby daughter who was born a few weeks before he was to return home in September.
Campbell’s daughter celebrated her first birthday last year and was four months old when her father left for the farm work program last spring.
The wives and families of the farmworkers were appreciative of the support, Andres said.
“It was a shock to them because they just figured Canadians don’t care, nobody knows … they believe, in Jamaica, that they’re disposable,” she said. “So, they were just very, very grateful.”
The three families were very grateful to receive the money, including KerriAnn, one of the worker’s wives (her name has been changed to protect her privacy).
“I want to express my deepest gratitude for your generous monetary contribution during this difficult time of loss,” KerriAnn said in a news release.
“Your support means a great deal to me and my family, and it provides a comforting reminder of the kindness that surrounds us. Thank you for your thoughtful gesture. It has truly touched our hearts.”
Andres said the families are still waiting for more information about the men’s deaths and that coping has been difficult.
“I do hope that things are going to come through as they should eventually, but I don’t know what that will be,” she said.
As for Jeleel Stewart, he has been suffering from severed tendons and nerves in his hand, which has prevented him from working for the past 15 years, resulting in a severe decline in his health.
He has been in hospital for the past three months, causing increased hardship for his wife and children, Andres said.
“He’s really not doing well,” she said.
She added that she’s expecting a call “any day” informing her of his death.
“It’s really hard to think about it, because he’s such an incredible man,” she said.
Stewart and his family gained some legal ground in their case this past November when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal ruled that he and four other seasonal workers are entitled to proper loss-of-earnings benefits after their compensation claims were denied.
However, the Stewart family’s case — along with the other three — is still being assessed and they will not receive any financial compensation until the process is complete.
The date of the appeal interview has been moved up due to Stewart’s declining health, Andres said.