Wautoma parish collects clothing, other items for area’s migrant population

WAUTOMA — Lupe Cervantes, Hispanic ministry coordinator for St. Joseph Parish in Wautoma, accepts donations year-round for people in need in Waushara County. But this Lenten season, he had a specific mission.

Lupe Cervantes, Hispanic ministry coordinator for St. Joseph Parish in Wautoma, displays two coats that will be given to farm and migrant workers thanks to donors. Dawn Blake | For The Compass)

Enlisting the help of the Diocese of Green Bay and working with Sr. Martha Escobar and Erin Guerrero in the Office of Hispanic and Multicultural Ministry, Cervantes requested warm clothing for farmworkers and migrants.

“We do a couple drives a year,” he said. “We did one for blankets and one for towels. This is our first time collecting coats and shoes.”

Donations from parishioners included work boots, gloves, long pants, socks and heavy jackets, all especially helpful for workers who arrive in early spring and find themselves struggling with the cold weather, transportation issues and financial resources. This time of year, they’re seeding, taking care of plants in the greenhouses and getting ready for the outside work of transplanting pickles, peppers, squash, sweet corn and flowers later in the season.

According to Cervantes, who has been a member of St. Joseph Parish since 1992 and the Hispanic ministry coordinator there since 2018, most migrants in the Wautoma area are single men from Mexico coming to Wisconsin on work visas.

“Obviously, down in Mexico, it’s warm 24/7, 365 days, so they left their home probably without even a sweater,” he said. “After they get paid, they can buy stuff. But I want to help them through the rough spot. Because myself, I was a migrant back in the ’90s for 10 years, and there wasn’t this kind of help around – or if there was, I didn’t know about it. We used the two sets of clothes that we brought up here, for months. Wash one and then use the other one; then wash that one and use the other.”

Cervantes travels to area farms, camps and workplaces to find out what is needed, and then provides those essentials through funds from the diocese, some private monetary gifts and donated items.

“Through the warm hearts of parishioners, I not only have clothing and shoes, I have shampoo, toothpaste, household stuff (mugs), books and toys for the kids,” he said. “This is for people in need, not just Hispanics. Anyone can come and look and if they see something they like or need, they can take it free of charge.”

Donations are accepted year-round and housed in a storage facility at the church. By June, about 75% of the winter items will be gone and anything that isn’t used will be taken to the County Cupboard, a nonprofit thrift store in Wautoma.

Any new or gently-used items are always welcome. To schedule a donation drop-off, contact St. Joseph Parish at (920) 787-3848.