Church Women United help Manatee County migrant students, families
BRADENTON -- In high school, David Carrillo and one of his brothers would wake up between 4 and 5 a.m., strap lights onto their heads "like they use going into caves," and head to the fields in Myakka to pick cucumbers.
They'd work until about 6:30 a.m., head back to the family trailer, shower and head to Lakewood Ranch High School. After school, they'd head back to the fields to help out their mother and sisters.
"It was just something we had to do," Carrillo said Friday during the annual Migrant Tea, hosted by the Church Women United of Manatee County and benefiting more than 600 students in the Manatee County School District who have stories similar to Carrillo's.
Carrillo came to the United States when he was 3. His family split their time between working in Michigan and working in Florida, but Carrillo said he always preferred to be in Florida. The whole family -- his father, mother, two sisters and two brothers -- would spend long days in the fields. His family didn't force him into working when he was young, but the children had to accompany their parents to the fields when they were younger because they couldn't afford child care.
"We'd pretend it was. ... It was the only playground we had, I guess," he said.
In high school, Carrillo used to be embarrassed about his family's status. After breaks, teachers would ask students what they had done. Instead of vacationing, Carrillo's family looked at breaks as a way to earn more money. Carrillo would return to school after breaks much darker from all his time in the sun.
"I would say I went to the beach," he said. "It wasn't that, it was that we worked every day."
Carrillo graduated from Lakewood Ranch in 2007 and now works as a migrant recruiter for the school district. On Friday, as women from various churches filled the pews at the Manatee United Methodist Church, Carrillo showed videos of what work on the farms is like, answered questions about his life and thanked the women for the multitude of gifts and supplies they were donating for migrant children.
For more than 40 years, the Church Women United of Manatee County has worked to provide clothing, diapers, shoes, quilts, blankets and school supplies for the children and families.
"We have so much compassion for these families," said Sandra Holley, the president of the organization and a member of Pathways Christian Fellowship. "We have more or less adopted immigrant families."
These families can come to this country with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Holley said, and following the word of the Lord, the organization feels compelled to help those who are less fortunate. The Migrant Tea program is just one of many ways the organization reaches out to help the less fortunate.
Without these women's work, the migrant program staff for the school district wouldn't be able to provide the services they do for the children and families, said Kate Bloomquist, district coordinator for migrant and immigrant services.
The district will deliver some of the items immediately to families with high needs. The district has also started hosting two parent information nights for migrant families, where they can learn about school district and community services available. Then, families can pick out items they need.
"They go shopping, so to speak," Bloomquist said.
Pastor Sharon Davis thanked the organization for their compassion and the work they do to help the less fortunate, who are trying to make their way.
"You have outdone yourself," she said. "You provide so much for those who have so little."
Calling herself an "anchor baby" -- Davis' parents were Canadian students studying in New York when she was born -- Davis said it's important to remember that everyone living in the United States was once considered an alien. Davis didn't want to start a political discussion and said finding the answer wouldn't be easy, but wanted to remind those in the audience that Jesus was once a refugee and an immigrant.
"We are all Paris. We are all Beirut. We are all Syrian refugees. We are all migrant workers. We are all one," she said. "We do not combat evil and injustice by turning away, we do it by loving others."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.