At the beginning of the growing season, which lasts between April and October, the Hartville Migrant Center welcomes workers and their families by offering them welcome bags that include sheets, towels, personal items like shampoo and toothpaste and cleaning products.
Debbie Stockavas, the coordinator of services at the Hartville Migrant Center, likes to show visitors the glossy pages from the book “Growing Season.” It’s a 2006 photo anthology featuring the photography of Gary Harwood and offers 159 pages of images detailing the hard work of Hartville’s migrant population.
“That’s Winston; he’s Jamaican,” Stockavas said, pointing to a photograph of a sun-tanned man hauling bagsful of produce.
Stocavas is one of two paid employees at the migrant center, where she works to help acclimate more than 300 seasonal migrant workers to their temporary homes in Hartville. The center is located between several of the area’s largest farms.
“If we didn’t have migrants here,” Stockavas said, “you would not get Dole lettuce at Giant Eagle in the summertime in this area.”
Hartville boasts extremely rich farm land, which the locals call “black muck.” It is uniquely suited for intense cultivation of leafy green vegetables, which make up most of the crops the migrants harvest each year. Other vegetables, including onions, radishes, squash and corn are yielded from the rich soil.
According to Stockavas, a large portion of the migrant workers that come to Hartville are Mexican, while many others are Jamaican and American.
At the beginning of the growing season, which lasts between April and October, the migrant center welcomes workers and their families by offering them welcome bags that include sheets, towels, personal items like shampoo and toothpaste and cleaning products. But Stockavas said the largest part of their mission is related to medical services.
“We are the oldest free clinic in Ohio,” Stockavas said, adding that the center has been assisting seasonal farm workers since 1962. The Christian-based organization is one of the only ecumenical non-profit organizations left in the country, according to Stockavas.
Each migrant who registers with the center at the beginning of the season gets free medical care, including tuberculosis testing, women’s health screenings, children’s physicals and various other health-related services.
“The migrants are well taken care of here and they come with a different set of issues as far as health care goes,” she said, citing hypertension and diabetes as major examples. “We’re also trying to educate them.” Children of families who come to Hartville to do migrant work are offered free schooling and recreation courtesy of Hartville Migrant Head Start and Marlington Local Schools.
“It’s very common to have migrant workers in farms,” Stockavas said. “But this is unique to have so many of their needs met.”
Children of migrant workers get several meals a day, free bussing and after-school care. Workers live in dorm-like housing supplied by the growers at no cost and the center operates a commodities room where families can take diapers, household items and other essentials for free. The center recently received a grant to buy several computers, where migrants and their families can come and use the Internet. Adult education, including GED classes and citizen classes are offered. Collaborations with organizations like the Immigrant Worker Project and several local hospitals and churches keep each program afloat.
But Stockavas said for her, and many of the other employees and volunteers at the center, the best part of the job revolves around getting to know the families, who come back season after season to work in Hartville.
“I started meeting migrants and building relationships, because you’re seeing the same people and you get to know them,” Stockavas said. “They’re our neighbors.”
By the end of the season this year, Stockavas said she had been invited into many of the migrants’ homes and knew their children and grandchildren as well as her own.
“The migrants shop in Hartville. They eat at the restaurants in Hartville. They put back into our community,” she said. “It’s a great place for them to come for the summer.”
For more information about the Hartville Migrant Center, which is located at 3980 Swamp St., call 330-877-2983 or visit www.hartvillemigrantministry.org.
The center is actively seeks donations, including household products, bedding and diapers all year round.