BROCKPORT — Community faith leaders have decided to forego the annual welcoming celebration for migrant workers that has been held in the village for more than three decades.
One of the main reasons for not holding the annual bienvenida in June is that fewer migrant workers were attending the celebration in recent years, explained Penny Gardner, the diocese’s migrant minister for the Brockport area. The reasons for the decline in attendance are many, noted Gardner and Sister of St. Joseph Beverly Baker, director of the Migrant Education Outreach program based at SUNY Brockport. They include migrant workers’ lack of transportation, their participation in local soccer matches that take place during bienvenida and their need to stay at their farms and work, Sister Baker said.
Even when transportation was provided, the constant fear of being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents if they leave their camps to attend the celebration — which happened two years ago — was the main deterrent keeping undocumented migrant workers away from the welcoming celebration, Sister Baker added.
"They’re afraid to drive," she said.
Because of the smaller attendance, Sister Baker said that she understands why the Brockport Ecumenical Outreach Committee (BEOC) decided to discontinue the large undertaking of organizing and holding the celebration for such a small migrant presence. The committee took over planning for the bienvenida about 20 years, she added.
"It was a lot of work, which we’re willing to do if the migrant people are present," Sister Baker said, but that hasn’t been the case. "But it is important for us to highlight the work of the migrants for the church people. And they were the people who (always) came, and we appreciate that."
The BEOC will continue that work of raising community awareness with local churches. The group also will continue to sponsor collections for food and other supplies to meet the needs of new migrant families in collaboration with Brockport Ecumenical Emergency Food Shelf, Gardner said. BEOC members also will put up banners throughout the village to ensure the workers still know that the community is glad to have them there, she added.
"We want to welcome and thank the farmworkers and to keep alive in the community awareness of their presence and all the good they do for us," Gardner said.
She explained that the BEOC also has set aside funds to be available to migrant workers who find themselves in an emergency situation, such as not being able to pay a utility or medical bill. They also plan to have vouchers so migrant workers can pay for perishable items, such as meat, that might not be available at the food cupboard.
Another goal would be to organize small group visits to area farms to provide a more personal connection between the community and the workers and the farmers as well, Gardner said. Leaders of the different denominations that are part of the BEOC could go out with these groups and bless the land and the farming equipment, she added.
Sister Baker and Librada Paz, a former director of Rural & Migrant Ministry’s Brockport office, said that such visits are a good idea, although Paz noted that she hopes bienvenida will return in the future.
"It’s a good idea that they have groups of people visit the camps," added Paz, whose family also arrived in the area as migrant workers and settled in Brockport. "This way, they make more connections with the migrants."
Sister Baker said that the bienvenida was a wonderful example of churches being connected and working together for a common cause, so she is glad to know their efforts will continue.
"Hopefully, God will lead us in a new direction," she said.