As it passes two months since the Aug. 7 immigration raids impacted 680 immigrant workers at poultry plants in communities near Jackson, churches such as the Immaculate Conception Church in Laurel and Sacred Heart Church in Canton are part of the ongoing response effort to provide for the families impacted.
Suzie Middleton, the youth minister for the Immaculate Conception Church, said the issue is one that spans beyond the 680 immigrants arrested.
“We have families that have five or six children where the dads are gone and the moms can’t work, or the moms didn’t work and the dad was the only income, so we set up a food pantry immediately after the raid,” Middleton said. “By that Saturday, we started having food and that Sunday we had full pantry where we could help.”
Her church had 48 families who were affected. Middleton remembers hearing news of the raid hitting during the “mommy shift” that morning and described it as both a “blessing and a curse” because some mothers were not at their shifts because they were dropping off children, while others were. Previous reports state that 300 people were released that same day, but Middleton noted that “released doesn’t mean free” and said her church is expecting to be responding to the raids for months and will be collecting pantry items until January.
Many of those released were women with children, Middleton noted, and said most of their work has been around making sure families are cared for, which includes collecting pantry items and collecting monetary donations to help families with rent. For the families within her church, Middleston said several families now have no income since several of the breadwinners are detained and those released are unable to work. The pantry is open every Wednesday and Sunday after their Spanish mass, and Middleton said her church is expecting to be responding to the raids for months and will be collecting pantry items until January.
“As time goes on, decisions are going to have to be made and court dates are going to come up and families will start having to make some really tough decisions. We can only go on for so long,” Middleton said.
Since the initial response time, donations have slowed down, Middleton said. The Immaculate Conception Church in Laurel updates its pantry needs list weekly on Facebook (@iccoflaurel).
The church has also offered English and reading lessons to assist immigrants impacted, and Immaculate Conception priests have interviewed families and coordinated with lawyers to assist the families impacted.
Pontotoc Elementary ESL teacher Gaby Martinez was part of that initial volunteer response in the aftermath of the raids. She volunteered in Canton the week of August 10 and Aug. 17. She said as a Hispanic person, when she heard about the families impacted she thought it could have been her own family. She said her position as an ESL teacher made her think about if her own students were without their parents.
“ I just couldn’t imagine my babies being in that situation,” Martinez said. “I know if it would have happened here I would have done everything I could do.”
She volunteered with Sacred Heart Church in Canton and said the first visit, she went with another local teacher to assist with translating. Once there, they also saw what was needed and bought supplies, as well as helped with organizing supplies.
On her second visit, Martinez went with five other local volunteers to deliver two trucks full of supplies. Prior to the trip, the group coordinated with the La Guadalajara Store in New Albany to collect donations, and Martinez said the community was very responsive to donating.
“It was only five of us who took everything, but it was people from our jobs, school and church. It was just everyone who donated a little bit, so the community was very responsive to it,” Martinez said.
The group one day in Canton and the next day in Forrest, where they assisted with paperwork and needed tasks.
Martinez said since those two visits, she has stayed in touch with the priest of Sacred Heart Church, which are now asking for financial donations, as they are fully stocked with physical donations. According to a Facebook post by Father Mike O’Brien, “Funds are needed as we help 100 families with utilities, rent and the most basic household expenses in the months ahead.”
Sacred Heart Church is currently accepting checks for Crisis Center aid and volunteer applications. Information on both can be found on the Sacred Heart Catholic Church page (@sacredheartcantonms) on Facebook. Martinez also suggested donating money directly to support families at https://catholiccharitiesjackson.org/ice-raids-in-morton/, or taking supplies to one of the Catholic Charities of Jackson’s support locations in Canton, Carthage, Forest, Morton or Laurel.