By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
ST. HELENA ISLAND — Each year, thousands of migrant workers come to the Beaufort area to harvest the tomato crop and work in the related canneries and processing plants. These workers, mostly Hispanics and some Haitians, usually arrive with few provisions.
To help fill the needs of these migrants, the Franciscan Center on St. Helena Island organized a drive to provide boxes of food. Each box contained enough provisions to help feed four workers for a week. That number was arrived at because housing at the camps accommodates four people per room.
Food drive co-chairs Ray and Silvia Tilson and Bill and Lynn Meyer worked with Franciscan Sisters Sheila Mary Byrne and Stella Mary Breen on the effort, which actually had its beginnings two years ago.
A June barbecue was held for the incoming workers at Holy Cross Mission on St. Helena Island in 1997, and the event was conducted again last summer. However, due to rains preceding the gathering, most of the migrants were making up lost time in the fields and were unable to attend the feast. Volunteers took matters into their own hands though and delivered the food to the camps.
The two sisters told the Tilsons and the Meyers that the barbecue did not fulfill the needs of the people and suggested the food drive be implemented this year as a substitute to that event. Since the workers are not paid until the end of their first week of employment, providing sustenance for the days before that initial paycheck is vital.
The community became involved in the effort; residents of Dataw and Fripp Islands contributed nearly $7,000; students at Beaufort Academy and St. Peter’s School weighed in, as a Lenten food drive at St. Peter’s garnered 2,000 canned goods; support was also provided by Publix and Winn-Dixie.
Franciscan Center volunteers ended up packing 342 boxes with over 10,000 pounds of food for workers at the camps in Beaufort County. These packages contained cans of whole corn, green beans, pears, chicken and rice soup, tuna, peas, peaches, fruit cocktail, and beef vegetable soup, bags of dried pinto beans and white rice, and containers of apple juice and corn oil. The cost for each box was about $20.
During two days of delivery to eight migrant camps June 8 and 9 food was provided to about 1,000 people. The camps range in size from 20 housing units up to 80, with many residents being young people, as well as families with small children.