A Spirit of Welcome

Each year during spring and summer, the population of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small town on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, swells from its average 18,000 residents with seasonal agricultural workers. The town, located in a farming community that grows wine grapes, pears, peaches and plums, welcomes about 2,000 seasonal workers. 

Each year when they arrive, GateWay Community Church is ready to welcome them.

“Migrant workers need support when they’re here,” says church board member Georgina Keller. “They’re away from their families for a long time. COVID-19 really spurred us to help, because we realized how isolated they were.”

When workers arrive at their boarding houses on the farms, they receive a welcome bag from the church full of necessities. The church is also home to the ministry Bikes for Farmworkers, which accepts donated bikes, reconditions them and sells them to farmworkers for $25 each, repairing them for free as needed. (The charge is only to deter workers from requesting multiple bikes to ship back home.) 

“It’s a great thing for the workers,” Keller says. “Niagara-on-the-Lake is a small town, but it’s spread over a large area. The guys depend on their bikes for transportation.”

The church also participates in other outreaches to the workers. One of its members has a heart for the workers, and visits them on the farms. She works with other churches to help get them food, clothing and household items.

Outreach is such an important part of GateWay’s mission that earlier this year, they left their rented commercial space for a more affordable spot in the local community center in order to free up more of the church’s funds for outreach.

“We’d rather spend less money renting at the community center,” says Keller. “People come and go all day and can see us more.”

Jessica Hanewinckel
Jessica Hanewinckel

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.