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Ministry helps migrant workers' spiritual growth

May 20, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Each spring, hundreds of migrant farm workers come to the Cumberland Valley to harvest millions of pounds of apples, peaches and other fruits.

For 11 years, the Rev. Ray Kauffman has served as executive director of the Fruitbelt Farmworker Christian Ministry for migrant and seasonal farm workers in Franklin, Adams and Cumberland counties in Pennsylvania. He said last week that he'll retire from that post Aug. 1.

"Our organization is there to provide a spiritual and social ministry," Kauffman told the Franklin County Board of Commissioners last Tuesday. That includes providing health kits and clothing, as well as food banks, agency referral and housing assistance, he said.

Last year the organization handed out 1,400 health kits, Kauffman said. Each kit contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, disposable razors, shaving cream, a washcloth and bath towel.

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The ministry also handed out 1,500 Bibles and religious tracts to farm workers.

Twenty-three churches in the three counties participate in the ministry's Adopt-A-Camp program.

The ministry's $85,000 budget is made up of donations from churches, businesses and individuals, he said.

In Franklin County, there are 16 migrant camps with 400 beds, Kauffman said. He estimated there are 700 to 800 farm workers in Franklin County, some of whom live here all year, although many are migrants from Latin America.

The ministry was founded in 1989 from separate ministries in the three counties, Kauffman said. During his time as executive director, he has seen the number of migrant farm workers decrease.

Kauffman said tighter immigration rules have made it harder for migrant workers to get green cards, and the robust economy has lured others to different jobs.

Kauffman said migrant workers are essential to the $44 million fruit industry in South Central Pennsylvania. They pick 433 million pounds of fruit in the region, including 64 million pounds of fruit worth $7 million in Franklin County.

William Morgan, a retired Spanish professor at Shippensburg University, said a shortage of farm workers is hurting the fruit industry. He said some fruit farmers in Adams County left fruit on their trees last year because there weren't enough pickers.

Kauffman said farm workers perform laborious tasks, such as pruning and spraying trees, and picking, processing and packaging fruit. While most migrant workers won't reach this area until the harvest, the Franklin County Commissioners last Tuesday declared May to be Farmworker Month.

Morgan said the 1980 Census showed just four Hispanic residents in Chambersburg. The Hispanic population in the county of more than 121,000 residents was still below 1 percent in 1990, but he predicted that segment of the population will be significant in the 2000 Census.

He said the children of many migrants who have become permanent residents have been assimilated into the culture, much as the Germans and other immigrants to the county were more than a century ago.

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