Education

Quilts and clothing collected for Manatee’s migrant workers

Members of the Church United Women of Manatee County organize donations of food, clothes and toys for families of migrant workers during the Migrant Tea on Friday morning, November 18, 2016 at Manatee United Methodist Church in Bradenton.
Members of the Church United Women of Manatee County organize donations of food, clothes and toys for families of migrant workers during the Migrant Tea on Friday morning, November 18, 2016 at Manatee United Methodist Church in Bradenton. zwittman@bradenton.com

Several of Manatee County’s poorest workers will go to bed under a handmade quilt this winter, thanks to the kindness of the Church Women United of Manatee County.

The non-denominational group gathered Friday at Manatee United Methodist Church for the the annual Migrant Tea Celebration. The event brings in donations for the area’s transient workers and their children, and this year members of the organization made about 100 quilts and filled 15 8-foot-long tables with shoes, clothing and accessories.

Quilts have symbolism — they are labors of love, meant to keep someone warm, and they are passed on to younger generations, attendees said.

“Having something as beautiful as these blankets can be a reminder that someone loves me,” said Manatee County School District Superintendent Diana Greene, who addressed the group of about 75 people gathered in the church sanctuary to commemorate the event.

Migrant families will be able to pick up the donated materials at two events in December.

It would be wrong for us to brush away these feelings lightly and dismiss the ever real concerns of our immigrant friends.

Sharon Davis, pastor, Manatee United Methodist Church

Fernando Olvera, a Manatee High School graduate and former migrant worker, described earning $1.75 per bucket of strawberries he picked while working on a farm in Michigan, and the pain his mother suffered after being run over by a tractor.

He credited mentors and groups like Church Women United for helping him once he moved to Florida to pick cucumbers and tomatoes in 1989.

“I knew I did not want to be a migrant worker forever,” he said.

After graduation, Olvera worked his way through school and is now a certified public accountant. He has worked for Tropicana for the past 17 years.

Roughly 600 migrant children attend Manatee County schools and the district provides services to an additional 300 who are either too young or not enrolled.

Olvera’s plight as a child migrant worker attending Manatee schools is one many current students can relate to.

According to Kate Bloomquist, the migrant education coordinator for the school district, roughly 600 migrant children attend Manatee County schools, and the district provides services to another 300 children who are either too young for school or are not enrolled.

A group of students from Myakka Elementary’s pre-kindergarten program sang at the service.

United Methodist Pastor Sharon Davis said the current political climate is particularly hard on migrant children. She said many fear being deported as a result of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises.

“It would be wrong for us to brush away these feelings lightly and dismiss the ever-real concerns of our immigrant friends,” she said.

Davis then paraphrased verses from Galatians: “There is neither white nor Hispanic, there is neither migrant nor permanent worker, there is neither documented nor undocumented worker, for we are all one in Christ.”

Migrant families can pick up quilts and clothing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at Tillman Elementary School, 1415 29th St. E., Palmetto. Pickup will also be available from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 13 at the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, 34590 S.R. 64 E., Myakka City.

Ryan McKinnon: 941-745-7027, @JRMcKinnon

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