Volunteer group receives extra support in winter clothes donations for migrant workers

·3 min read

When Elizabeth Ha made a social media call asking for winter clothing donations for migrant farm workers, she was surprised to see an "outpouring" of support from people in Windsor-Essex and across the province.

Ha has been part of Justice for Migrant Workers, a volunteer-driven advocacy group that aims to support and promote the rights of migrant farm workers, for more than five years. She says they've always been collecting clothing donations, but noticed more interest from people looking to help this year.

Toronto resident Claudette Ferguson, who donated to the Toronto branch of the organization, says part of the reason she was inspired to help was because of the increased media coverage of the workers during the pandemic.

Migrant farm workers made headlines over the last several months due to outbreaks in Ontario farms. More than 1,200 farm workers contracted COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex and two in the region died from the disease.

"I've always noticed that they were treated less than, and I thought that, 'how sad.' They're the ones that take care of our food," Ferguson said, adding that she's concerned about their health and well-being, especially since they may not be used to the frigid temperatures in Canada.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC
Tahmina Aziz/CBC

Ferguson and Ha said they are grateful for the support from the community.

"I think being from Windsor-Essex, we are a very generous community. Whenever there's a need to help someone, you you always see it, right? But because I've been doing this work for so long, it's just recently where I've seen such a huge outpouring of support for migrant workers," said Ha. "I think it's because [the community] sees what's happening and [the workers] are a part of our community. ... They're just like us ... and they contribute to our community."

Ha said in the past, she would pick up donations from common areas, such as union halls, but due to the pandemic, people drop off their donations at her house and she takes care of it from there.

She said she examines all the clothing that is brought to her, cleans them and personally drops it off to the workers in Leamington and Kingsville. She also said the donations haven't stopped coming and people continue to drop more off to her house.

Ha said being a child of immigrants, she's always been determined to help people who are facing inequality.

"It's not easy with the language barriers. And when you see inequity, I think everybody would stop and help," she said.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC
Tahmina Aziz/CBC

Canadians need to open up their hearts, says one donator

In addition to donating, Ferguson hopes to raise awareness of the inequities and unfair treatment farm workers face.

"I honestly believe that as Canadians, we need to really open up our heart, open up our minds and help these individuals as much as we can and give them the respect that they do rightly deserve," she said.

Ha said her group collects any donations, whether that's clothing, food, money and toiletries, on an ongoing basis.

"I mean there's always a need for it, but right now I feel like the need is more important," she said.