Special Rice Bowl grant helps striking migrant workers in Skagit Valley

By Armando Machado

The archdiocese’s Missions Office has sent $6,000 in assistance to help more than 200 migrant farmworkers in the Skagit Valley who went back on strike Aug. 15.

The special grant from the Rice Bowl program was offered to St. Charles Parish “because of growing needs in the migrant community” due to the walkouts, J.L. Drouhard, director of the Missions Office, wrote to Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo.

St. Charles hosts the Tri-Parish Food Bank and the Youth Migrant Project, a summer mission program that brings youth from around the archdiocese to serve the needs of migrant families in the Skagit Valley.

“We would like to accept your offer of assistance on behalf of the workers — in support of food for their daily needs and gas for their vehicles,” Denise Rhone, pastoral assistant at St. Charles, told Drouhard in an Aug. 16 email. “With guest workers now arriving, there may not be an easy or quick resolution to this issue.”

The workers, employed to pick berries for Sakuma Brothers, walked off the job three times over a 15-day period ending July 26. As a result, they received a minor wage increase and some improvements in their housing conditions. The latest walkout was prompted because the workers were being paid less than the agreed-upon wage, said Ramon Torres, an elected leader among the berry pickers.

The Missions Office was able to provide the special assistance, Drouhard said, because this year’s Catholic Relief Services Operation Rice Bowl collection drew more donations than in past years.

Through the Lenten program, 75 percent of local funds collected support CRS’ overseas programs and 25 percent of funds provide grants to local projects that help the poor and hungry in Western Washington.

August 20, 2013