Church Steps Up to Meet Needs of Migrant Farm Workers

Church Steps Up to Meet Needs of Migrant Farm Workers

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When pastor Brian Lane pulls into a migrant farm worker camp in Mulberry, Florida, kids come running. They know the routine — they know Lane and his small delivery team mean smiles, caring, and above all, a hot and delicious homemade meal.

In addition to providing food boxes for 300 families every Monday, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a rotating staff of about a dozen volunteers from First Assembly of God in Mulberry (FAM) spend five or more hours preparing 300 hot meals to be delivered to migrant farm worker families as well as other people in need.

The Tuesday-Thursday effort began April 21 after Lane made a post on Facebook requesting to hear of people’s needs during the pandemic. Dani Higgins, who has worked periodically with Lane over the last several years and has served as the Migrant Advocate for Mulberry High School for 16 years, reached out.

“Food insecurity is huge in this area, and not just now, but always,” Higgins says. “However, since the pandemic began, it has become overwhelming for migrant farm workers and their families.”

Lane says that overall, Mulberry is a low-income community with a lot of poverty. Migrant farm workers were especially hard hit by the stay-at-home order — restaurants stopped buying food, farmers had no one to sell their produce to (and it rotted in their fields), and the migrant farm workers suddenly had no work, no money, and little food.

“Most of the farm workers live in one of five trailer parks in Mulberry,” Lane says. “The housing in these trailer parks is substandard [housing that poses a risk to the health and physical well-being of its occupants] to the point that the people living there are considered homeless.”

MINISTRY AND THERAPY

Even though FAM has 150 on average attending services (prior to the pandemic), when adding a ministry of providing 300 meals twice a week, it takes a significant time commitment.

God already had someone in mind to lead the effort.

“I contacted pastor Brian, because I really wanted to help the church out,” Michelle Snover says, “but they didn’t have anything at the time. But within the week, he called me back and said he had something for me.”

Providing food for those in need was the ideal place for Snover to serve as her past was a mixture of compassion and pain. As a nurse, she was passionate about helping people. However, her personal life was wracked by hopelessness and emptiness. A single mother, she had turned to drinking and had become an alcoholic.

“I was an atheist. I didn’t know or care anything about church or religion,” Snover says. “I was in a really low, bad spot, and I was holding on, just barely surviving.”

Snover ended up in court and has since chosen to attend a 12-step program. A friend invited her to come to church, which happened to be FAM. At first, she resisted and definitely would not go alone. Now, she loves going on her own anytime the church is open.

“I’m 21 months sober now,” Snover says. “Pastor Brian and the whole church has been so supportive — they don’t care who you are, what your problem is, what your background is —they’re willing to help. It truly is a God thing.”

Snover points out that the stay-at-home order is very hard on people who are recovering addicts, no matter what their addiction. Without the regular meetings, leader and peer support, and with no jobs to go to, people get bored, make poor choices, and fall back into trouble.

However, for Snover, leading a team of 12 or so people to prepare meals twice a week and then helping to deliver those meals is hugely therapeutic.

“As we’re driving to deliver the meals, I can also talk to Pastor Brian and he gives me advice. Before, I knew nothing about God and nothing about religion; now, this church is my second family.”

IN THE CAMPS

For Snover, Lane, and those who help deliver the meals, there are fewer things that bring such a unique combination of joy and heartache than when delivering the food.

“It’s like entering a third-world country,” Lane says, referring to the dilapidated housing the farm workers live in. “At first, we went around knocking on doors and offering people meals. Now, when they see the van, the children come running and people come out to greet us. They are all very thankful and appreciative for the food.”

As most of the workers speak very little English and Lane only has a “general” knowledge of Spanish, there is some verbal communication gap. But the compassion and love of Christ expressed by their acts of kindness, smiles, and continued help cannot be missed.

“We feel the presence of God every time we go to hand out the meals,” Lane says.

In addition to the migrant camps, the small team of four also brings some meals to others who are in desperate need along with providing some meals for those struggling to break free of addiction.

The community has taken notice of the church’s efforts, with the majority deeply appreciative.

“One businessman called me and told me he was going to stop by the church,” Lane recalls. “When he pulls up, he reaches into the center console and pulls out $5,000 cash, hands it to me, and say, ‘Keep feeding people.’ Several days later, he comes by again and hands me another $5,000!”

Lanes says other people have been handing him money — $50 here, $100 there — to help the church pay for the $800-a-week cost of the meal outreach, including a missionary who gave them $1,000. Recently, they also received a United Way grant to increase the number of boxes of food they give out on Mondays.

To Lane and the members of FAM, it has become abundantly clear that God is blessing them through their efforts to meet needs and represent the love of Christ.

However, Lane admits, it’s not all sunshine in the Sunshine State.

“There is a dark side,” he says. “There are some people from the community asking what we are doing — why are we helping those people, and posting some really racist messages . . . so, it’s not all wonderful.”

ALL THE TIME

Even though Lane has only been serving at FAM for the past five years, Higgins, because of her familiarity with the local migrant population, points out that the church responding to the need for meals with a Tuesday-Thursday effort wasn’t a big surprise to her.

“This isn’t new, FAM and pastor Brian are amazing,” Higgins says. “We have a big influx of immigrants right now from Guatemala, and any time I need help — picking up people or uniforms for kids who don’t have them — he always says yes. He’s played Santa, the church has brought toys, they grill out in the camps, they’ve built relationships.”

Lane adds that just prior to the lockdown, the church had started looking for a volunteer to lead a Spanish ministry. He explains that they’ve seen a lot of people start coming to the church due to their Monday boxed-food distributions, but because they don’t currently have anyone who can minister fluently in Spanish, it’s a barrier to immigrants and farm workers who only speak Spanish.

And even though there are some people who are upset over the church meeting the needs of individuals who are doing work that very few others have the physical stamina or willingness to do, Lane says his church will continue to meet their needs to the very best of its ability.

“I’m not a member of his church, but I’m a big fan of the church and pastor Brian,” Higgins says. “A lot of people come and go, but he continues to be very visible . . . it really shows what he believes by his actions. They (Lane and the church) are always looking for ways to help in the community — it says a lot about his church and his faith.”

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