This House of God helps feed and care for migrant farmworkers

 

Beth-El Farmworker Ministry board member shares program’s outreach during Triennium workshop

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Youth groups who spend time at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry outside Tampa have a number of options for learning from and serving the local community. (Photo courtesy of Beth-El Farmworker Ministry)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — In a variety of ways, Beth-El Farmworker Ministry near Tampa, Fla., feeds the minds, bodies and spirits of farmworkers and their neighbors in need.

During Presbyterian Youth Triennium last week, the Rev. Johan Daza, coordinator for cross cultural ministries with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, used a workshop to explain a program that’s near and dear to his heart (he’s a member of Beth-El’s board of directors).

Beth-El Farmworker Ministry is a cooperative undertaking of Peace River Presbytery and the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, both from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as well as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Founded more than 40 years ago, Beth-El Farmworker Ministry of Wimauma, Fla., provides hunger relief, healthy recipes, education, medical and dental care, worship services and more to Florida’s 200,000 migrant workers.

It’s not right, Daza said, that migrant and seasonal workers who harvest fruits and vegetables in the Sunshine State are four times as likely “to lack the consistent ability to feed their families,” he said. “That’s what bothers me the most.”

In addition, he said, more than three-fourths of the nation’s migrant farmworkers have no access to health insurance. About one in four has completed a high school education.

Youth groups have for years come to Beth-El to work and learn, Daza said. Volunteers can pack produce and food bags, build personal hygiene packs, feed farmworkers, paint, perform yard maintenance, sort clothing or take on a community project, among other needed services.

Rosalva Serrano

Rosalva Serrano, now Beth-El’s executive assistant, says on a promotional video that as the daughter of a farmworker, she grew up at times “picking barefoot. Worms would crawl between our toes. We’d take a break only when it was lightning.”

But her parents “never kept us from school, so I want to make my mom proud by furthering my education.” At the time the video was being made, she was pursuing a college degree.

On another video, the Rev. Kathy Dain, Beth-El’s executive director, said the ministry began in 1976, when Presbyterians wanted to offer worship services to the Spanish-speaking farmworker community. Organizers quickly discovered that farmworkers, who were being paid 50 cents for every 40 pounds of tomatoes they picked, struggled with food insecurity and suffered other gaps in basic resources.

Now more than four decades later, each year 100,000 people pass through Beth-El’s doors. Each week, 500 families or more receive food.

The Rev. Kathy Dain

“Our main goal is long-term systemic change, and education is the key,” Dain said. At the start of each school year, Beth-El distributes 500 backpacks full of school supplies, as well as a new pair of shoes for each student in need.

From Daza’s perspective, things are getting a little better. The average hourly pay for farmworkers increased from $6.70 in 2000 to $9.26 in 2012. Nearby restaurants, he said, are coming around by reducing their food waste. A new initiative as part of Beth-El’s nutrition program encourages farmworker families to use healthy recipes. Together with the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, Beth-El runs a public charter school for children grades K-8.

“I have been involved with Beth-El since 2013,” he said, “and it is a joy.”

To learn more about Beth-El programs or to find out about ministry opportunities there, contact the community outreach manager, MaryEllen Welton Barragán, at outreach@beth-el.org or 813-633-1548.


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