By Kristen Caldwell
When it comes to migrant workers in Oregon, financial stability has never been a reality and the COVID-19 crisis has only made things worse for several families served by the Western Farm Workers Association.
Merry Goldthorpe, a volunteer with the Western Farm Workers Association and a member of Beaverton-Westside United Methodist Church, has watched as migrant families in the area have struggled even more deeply during this pandemic.
A single father who worked as a carpet cleaner in the nearby area was laid off and is unable to provide for his children. Another member of the WFWA, a woman working at a plant nursery, was working three weeks a month straight to pay rent. She became ill and missed two weeks of work. Because of the WFWA’s advocacy, Goldthorpe said the woman was finally tested – thankfully negatively – for COVID-19. But this woman and her three children are in a very difficult situation.
So when the church heard about the Oregon-Idaho Conference’s Grocery Gift Cards for Families initiative, they tapped into local resources and have now purchased more than $4,000 in grocery gift cards for the Western Farm Workers Association to distribute to its members.
“We’ve always had a heart for migrant workers,” said Rev. Brian Shimer of Beaverton-Westside UMC. “We were trying to find a way we could get involved (during this pandemic).”
The church used a combination of local donations and a grant from the Columbia District Church Extension Society to get the ball rolling, purchasing gift cards in the amount of $100 or $50.
Goldthorpe said grocery gift cards – in addition to a food drive and face mask donation effort from Westside UMC – are a tremendous resource for the WFWA.
“We get ten to fifteen requests for emergency food per week. From two to five times a day people come in asking for rent assistance. We do not have resources for rent.,” she said. “It is challenging, especially now. Thank you again for the gift cards that will be so gratefully received.”
In early April the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The UMC launched it’s Grocery Gift Cards for Families initiative with a $100,000 grant from the Ministry Leadership Team to inspire and encourage churches across the Conference to engage with their local community to try to offer some relief and support to vulnerable populations within their community.
This grant – which provides matching funds to churches that choose to engage in this work – was issued after the successful implementation of a $10,000 pilot project in southeast Portland and extension societies in the Cascadia, Columbia, and Crater Lake Districts also offered their churches between $20,000 and $25,000 in grants.
Since the early April rollout of the MLT grant, approximately $65,000 has been expended toward grocery gift cards across the Conference. Lutherans and Presbyterians across Oregon have also established similar support projects after being inspired by local United Methodist churches.
People can also contribute to the Grocery Gift Cards for Families initiative to keep this support going for vulnerable families during this health and economic crisis. Visit www.umoi.org/grocerygiftcards to make a contribution.