Happy Birthday Child & Migrant Services
Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of SPOKE+BLOSSOM
Palisade nonprofit celebrates 65 years welcoming farmworkers far from home
Each winter, Sergio Campos Martinez says goodbye to his wife and five children in San Luis Portosin, Mexico to begin a weeklong bus trip — first to the city of Monterrey to gather his work visa and other paperwork and then on to the United States. His destination is Colorado, where he spends eight months tending orchards in Palisade. Campos Martinez has made the annual journey for the past 12 years.
“[He’s] a really good boss; he’s always treated us really well,” Campos Martinez says about his longtime employer. Child and Migrant Services (CMS), a nonprofit in Palisade founded to provide basic necessities to the Grand Valley’s migrant farmworker population, helps workers feel at home, which benefits landowners who depend on migrant labor to tend and harvest their crops.
Sixty-five years ago, around a kitchen table, three Palisade farmers’ wives — Margaret Talbott, Vera Foss and Dorothy Powers — discussed how to make their employees’ lives easier during an era when treatment of farmworkers in the U.S. was often dismal. They and other community leaders, many of them women, enlisted the help of area churches in providing food, clothing and other basic needs for those who work in the orchards, farms and ranches throughout Mesa County.
CMS is housed in a tall, white with blue trim Victorian-style house at 721 Peach Avenue — it’s visible from the highway that cuts through town. Throughout the summer, The Hospitality Center serves hearty, homestyle meals three times a week to farmworkers and their families.
On a spring day, after the first wave of farmworkers have already arrived in Palisade to prune and thin fruit trees, workers enter the Hospitality Center’s dining room. They’ve come for a hot meal and camaraderie. Child and Migrant Services Executive Director Karalyn Dorn greets Campos Martinez and his co-workers. “Buenas tardes, bienvenidos,” (“Good afternoon, welcome,”) says Dorn, a former Peace Corps volunteer who became fluent in Spanish while serving in Guatemala.
The men sit together at one of the long dining tables set with small bowls of salsa. Volunteers serve plates of rice, beans, meat and a stack of warmed tortillas. The farmworkers help themselves to the salad and lemonade on a side table.
“It’s always hearty and filling; it’s comfort food,” Dorn says. “The meals really help us to connect with the workers in different ways. We are providing food to people who are laboringvery hard. We’re also demonstrating that we recognize them, care about them and want to reach out in partnership with them.”
At another table, Rosa Ruiz eats dinner with her daughter. Ruiz works in the orchards with her husband and also volunteers at CMS, whether it’s helping with the meal program or making tamales — one of CMS’s ongoing fundraisers. “Everybody likes coming here; we don’t feel so alone here,” says Ruiz, a native of Mexico.
During harvest season, Campos Martinez climbs up and down ladders all day long, picking the ripened fruit and placing it in a container strapped to his body. It’s eight hours of hot, labor-intensive work under a blazing sun. Afterward, he’ll often head over to the packing shed for another three to four hours of work. At the end of the day, Campos Martinez returns to a mobile home he shares with four other men.
“Farmworkers do much more than harvest crops,” Dorn says. “They plant, prune, thin the buds, spray, weed, pick the fruits, sort it, pack it and more. They are crucial contributors to our livelihoods and the vitality of our community.”
Most of the solo men are supporting families back home in Mexico or Central America. “Every [payday,] the first thing they do is set aside money to send home,” says Peg Martinez, community health worker.
In addition to the meal program, CMS helps farmworkers and their families access community services like healthcare from MarillacHealth. When a landowner called CMS recently seeking help for one of his employees with a “killer toothache,” Martinez was able to help the farmworker make an appointment with MarillacHealth’s Dental Clinic.
CMS also hosts various activities and special celebrations throughout the year, like Dia Del Nino (Children’s Day), a traditional holiday celebrated in Mexico on April 30.
“It’s in our [grower’s] interest for the farmworkers’ stay to be enjoyable and more comfortable,” says fifth-generation farmer Bruce Talbott, grandson of CMS co-founder Margaret Talbott. “Over time, [CMS became] a place for people to go to coordinate with employers. Palisade is a preferred area to come to. People who come here to work are treated very well. Child and Migrant Services are a part of that. To have a homecooked meal for solo men 2,000 miles from home, that’s a welcoming thing.”
CMS is supported through local and statewide contributions. Both individuals and businesses donate to CMS, as well as civic groups, various foundations and United Way of Mesa County. More than 100 community volunteers donate their time over the course of a year. The nonprofit is also funded by the sale of tamales — chicken, pork or veggie — which can be purchased at the center or via their website, migrantservicesgv.org, for either pickup or delivery to a central Grand Junction location.
Just around the corner from the Hospitality Center’s front entrance is “the mother organization” — the Mesa County Migrant Ministry Community Thrift Store, a fully volunteer-run secondhand shop that contributes all proceeds to CMS and offers clothing and household goods at low prices. “The farmworkers (and locals) love it,” Dorn says.
CMS’s biggest fundraiser is in July when the Boulder-based salsa band Quemando performs outdoors at Grande River Vineyards, located at 787 Elberta Ave. Quemando plays every year for this festive event that draws both longtime locals and farmworkers. Homemade Mexican food, as well as Grande River wine, are for sale during the concert. Concertgoers place their lawn chairs in front of the stage at this lovely venue surrounded by closeup views of Grand Mesa and the Book Cliffs. This year’s concert will take place on July 6.