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Ministry supplies workers with essentials

May 20, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Fruitbelt Ministry

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Between 3,000 and 4,000 migrant farm workers pass through Franklin, Adams and Cumberland counties each year following the peach and apple crops and most can use the help offered by the Fruitbelt Farmworker Christian Ministry.

The most frustrating thing to the Rev. Ray L. Kauffman, executive director of the ministry, is that there are only resources to help half that many.

"We can only serve about 1,500 farm workers a year," said Kauffman, 62. He was hired as executive director of the ministry when it was consolidated into a single entity in 1989 from an assortment of migrant advocacy groups supported by area churches.

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The ministry shares office space with Ray's Laminating, the part-time business Kauffman runs at 1006 South Main St.

Kauffman said migrant farm workers have been picking the region's peach and apple crops since the late 1940s. Early on, he said a volunteer committee was formed by the Pennsylvania Council of Churches to minister to them.

"It grew over the years until the workers' needs exceeded what the volunteers could do," he said.

That's why the ministry was created.

Today it's still small. The only paid employees are Kauffman, who works full time, a part-time secretary, three or four interpreters hired for the busy harvest season and a handful of volunteers.

About 80 percent of the migrants are Mexican who speak only Spanish. About 10 percent are Haitians who speak only French. The ministry hands out free Bibles written in French, Spanish and English.

Kauffman's main job is rounding up support from churches in the three counties, including the 438 in Franklin County. He's out at least one night a week preaching his ministry to area congregations.

Churches provide money, clothes and food for the migrants, plus toiletries and other necessities that go into the nearly 1,000 "health kits" the ministry puts together for the migrants each year.

"About 400 churches in Franklin County help out in some way," Kauffman said.

Finding money for migrant housing is the ministry's biggest challenge. There are nearly 110 migrant camps in the three-county area with the most - about 90 - in Adams County. The camps provide housing for about half of the nearly 4,000 migrants who work in the region every year from July to November. The ministry finds housing in apartments and motels and through area social agencies.

The ministry's annual budget runs about $83,000, which comes from donations and fund-raisers, like an annual fruit basket sale, which net about $7,000.

Kauffman was born in Chambersburg. He was a mailman until he was called to the ministry and went to college.

He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 1975 and a master's from Gettysburg (Pa.) Theological Seminary in 1979. He was the chaplain at Franklin County Prison for 11 years before taking over the ministry.

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