Farm Worker Appreciation Day draws hundreds
By Ken DeLaat
It was a day filled with celebration, appreciation and family fun. A community picnic of sorts but more than merely a gathering to commune over food and conversation. This was the event of the summer for the hundreds of farm workers who ensure the agricultural wheels keep rolling in our area.
They came in droves to the grounds of Grant Middle School to take part in the annual Farm Worker Appreciation Day. A day set aside to celebrate those who populate our area farms for up to half of the year or more. The migrant workers who provide a vital service to the region’s vast agricultural industry.
Attending the doings on Sunday July 30th at the invitation of organizer Mary Rangel, we experienced an outstanding afternoon watching folks having a great time under glorious skies. A community of people bonded...
...by the work they do and the lifestyle that accompanies it enjoying a bit of well deserved respite.
Mary serves as chair of the Sparta Area Migrant Resource Council as well as in her position with District Health Department #10 in the Women, Infants, Children (W.I.C.)Division. She has been part of this event since its beginning more than 15 years ago when the first F.A.D. drew several dozen for a day of fun and food. Now, armed with a sea of volunteers and family members helping out, the event draws hundreds.
“I have always wanted to make it bigger and better each year,” said Rangel. “And so far it has always gotten bigger and better!”
A large and enthusiastic crowd poured onto the grounds to partake in some great food prepared by Carlos Gomez the owner of Kent City restaurant El Zapopan. They watched the colorful array of traditional dancers, communed with friends old and new, and received some much needed giveaways, Giveaways that included shoes and backpacks for the school age children, a bag of culturally friendly groceries and a chance at the door prizes being announced throughout the day.
“These are not extravagant gifts, but practical things migrant families need,” explained Mary when asked about the door prizes. “Air mattresses are desirable since many of the migrant camps have small rooms the family can use the mattress to sleep on and put it away during day time hours. A fan, bath towels, cleaning and hygiene products are all good gifts as well. All items that you and I use on a daily basis and take for granted are what our migrant families call luxury items.”
Agencies who serve the migrant community were also on hand with their own giveaways along with dispensing useful information ranging from legal rights to health care.
We asked Mary how she became so involved in putting on this event.
“My family was a migrant family. My sister and I went to migrant summer school. I remember growing up living in migrant camps and housing. When I was 9 years old my Mom and Dad had a baby and I stayed home taking care of the 6 week newborn baby, Thea, and my 8 year old sister Irma. When I was 11 years old I started working for the same farmer my dad worked for. We worked in the fields for many summers, my sister Irma and I. I remember going back to school in the fall and listening to all the other kids talk about their summer family vacations.
“We never knew what a summer vacation was.”
And now each summer she works to organize and secure funding for this annual happening that means so much to the attendees.
“I do this because it’s my passion to help others, but especially the migrants and farm working people because I know what it’s like to have very little. I have a beautiful memory of my Mother taking my sister Irma and I to an agency in Fremont to get new coats for school.. The memory of feeling like a "Queen" with my new coat is one I will never forget.
“Knowing how much these children need coats, shoes, back packs, the basic needs that many of our children take for granted. is the reason I do this. I will continuing doing this until we reach the stars! I can only imagine how special all my migrant and farm working children feel when they are getting these items ”
Mary says the event is also a way of showing appreciation.
“We want our migrant and farm working families to know how much we appreciate them and their hard work. They family sacrifices they make to help bring food to our tables. I believe if our residents would stop and think how much we all depend on these families they might greet them with a much warmer welcome.”
While the event is supported primarily by the Migrant Resource Council agencies and the Fremont Area Community Foundation, Mary is hoping to find additional resources that will allow her to provide even more for the families she shares a strong kinship with.
“I feel it is the least we can do for the families to let them know how important they are to our community and to our economic growth.
“Coming from the migrant background, I know first hand what the families need. I pray to God someday I can give all the migrant and farm working school age children a new coat, pair of shoes, back pack, under garments and socks for their first days of school. That would be a dream come true for me. Just helping them have those basic needs met.
“A goal, I plan on accomplishing July of 2018!”
Having witnessed what she has achieved thus far in making Farm Worker Appreciation Day the huge success it has become this lofty goal could very well become a reality. It might involve a great deal of hard work to get there but hard work doesn’t deter her.
The 11 year old who spent the summer working the fields learned first hand how to overcome even the largest of obstacles.