A leisurely drive down Highway 24 can provide beautiful rural scenery and a variety of agriculture. As you reach the communities of Waverly or Lexington you may notice several fruit orchards lining the highway. This area of land, just south of the Missouri River, is favorable for growing fruit such as apples and peaches. As you drive by the rows of trees, you might start to wish you had a glass of cider or a warm apple pie to enjoy. You might be able to fulfill your fall desires at one of the roadside stands or shops.
To have the fresh produce, of course, land, trees, and equipment are needed. Workers are also needed to pick, wash, sort, and pack the fruit. Some of the larger apple orchards in this area depend on the labor of migrant and seasonal farmworkers to prepare the fruit for consumers. Each July, a few hundred workers travel to the Lexington area to begin work in the apple orchards and will stay until the season winds down in late October. The Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund (MFAF) in Lexington has been serving and empowering these workers for over 36 years and has been a long-time partner of Festival of Sharing. Items such as rice, hygiene kits, and this year, blankets, are important resources for the workers who must travel lightly and have limited access to transportation.
The MFAF staff greet the farmworkers upon arrival and work with them to determine eligibility for public benefits, arrange medical and dental services, and complete school enrollment forms for children. These services, along with others such as food distributions, preschool, medical case management, youth leadership opportunities, and more, are offered throughout the season. Some resources are maintained year-round for the farmworkers who settle in the area.
Suzanne Gladney, immigration attorney, founded MFAF in 1984 when she discovered that many of her clients in the area experienced needs beyond immigration applications. Rural residents already face difficulty in accessing healthcare and educational resources, but the challenges compound when there are language and transportation barriers. "The workers and families are far away from their home, in areas of poor internet and cell service to connect with friends and family, working long days and weeks through the harvest, living in isolated labor camps .... and they are cheerful, grateful and easy to serve," shares Suzanne.
There are many ways to support the MFAF. You can send monetary and physical donations of food or clothing, but I would encourage you to take a step further. To learn and grow and become relational. To do as the great social justice leader, Bryan Stevenson, encourages: get proximate. Suzanne and the MFAF staff are welcoming of visitors who are interested in building relationships with the farmworkers and their families. You can gather a small group of friends and help at one of their food distributions (currently in a drive-thru format) or go with the staff to the orchards on a weeknight to visit and play games with the families. You can lead a women’s activity group on topics of cooking or crafting. The opportunities for connection, which can open the door to understanding, are there and ripe for the picking.
To find out more about the MFAF, visit http://www.migrantfarmworkersaf.org/.