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Dec. 8, 2019 | Sunday
Local News
Tree lighting ceremony draws crowds to town

People gathered around the Old Court House steps for Sunday evening’s Christmas tree lighting while the St. Michael Catholic Elementary School choir serenaded the crowd – but this year’s celebration connected the town more than ever.

Many farm workers who live in Niagara-on-the-Lake seasonally have never made it to Old Town but on Sunday, a group of Mexican workers joined in on the town’s holiday spirit during the festivities for the first time.

It was also the first time a tree lighting ceremony took place downtown, said town spokesperson Lauren Kruitbosch. A tree hasn’t been displayed in front of the cenotaph since 2014, and it was done with the blessing of the the Legion this year.

Julia Buxton-Cox, who arranged to bring the group of workers to Queen Street, said she was inspired by the efforts of Niagara Workers Welcome founder Jane Andres and touched by the tragic death of Mexican farm worker Zenaida this past summer.

She said she wanted to reach out to help any way she could.

Of the 35 workers who boarded the bus from St. Davids Hydroponics, where many of them are employed, only two had been down to Old Town before.

Armed with what little Spanish she knows, Buxton-Cox said she’s connected with a group of women farm workers over the last couple months. She’s been driving them to run errands and spending time with them socially.

“I do it with the underlying message – which is ‘We appreciate you and the work you’re doing.’ It’s all about creating a relationship.”

Buxton-Cox said she approached Barry Wilding, who drives a school bus, and he arranged for the use of the bus and donated his time to bring them to Queen Street.

She wanted to arrange a thank you for them for Christmas, she said, and the tree lighting presented a perfect opportunity.

“I think that there’s a real shift in town that people want to know more – and they want to get more involved. We have about 2,000 farm workers who come here annually. Instead of just passing them in the grocery store and saying “Ola” or “Hi,” some of these people need actual help,” she said.

She said she regrets she can’t do more for all the farm workers in town. Right now, limited resources limit what she can do, but she said she hopes that will change as the message spreads.

“We’re just trying to do something that’s manageable right now. This is the first time we’ve ever done it,” she added.

“I would love to take all the farm workers that stay for Christmas. The hope is to grow and to create community and relationships, so they know how much we appreciate them.”

She enlisted the help of a local pastor who speaks Spanish and could help with translations.

She also reached out to Lord Mayor Betty Disero, who said she was “so happy they’re coming.”

And while bringing the workers to the ceremony and offering her time is a start, she said she would like to do more.

Partnering with Andres, she’s working on getting the word out about farm worker welcome kits, which Andres has been putting together. Buxton-Cox said she is sending out an information page about cost of the kits and how they can help farm workers.

“It’s a way to offer them something over the holiday season,” she said.

Email money transfers can be sent to niagaraworkerswelcome@gmail.com to purchase kits which will be distributed in February 2020. Use the word “welcome” for the e-transfer question.

Sending $25 will fund one kit; $50 for two; $35 for one kit and a reflective vest; $70 for two kits and two reflective vests; and $100 will fund three kits and three vests.

Kits will be filled with heavy duty work gloves, thermal work socks, a new washcloth, hand towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper roll, Tylenol travel pack, instant chicken soup package, granola bar and Band-Aids. And a personal welcome note is always a special touch.

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