From TheMonitor.com, Allyson Reynolds Dixon, 16 May 2011.
McALLEN [TX] — Hermila Garcia knows all too well what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a migrant farmworker.
Not that many years ago, she herself wore them when her daughter needed a tonsillectomy and Garcia couldn’t afford the insurance deductible.
Hoping to help others in similar circumstances, Garcia spends many of her days distributing shoes to migrant workers. But her giving doesn’t end there.
Known to her friends and extended family as “Millie,” she also donates quilts in October, turkeys at Thanksgiving and candy at Christmas. She wants the families to have not only what they need but also the things for which they’ve never thought of asking.
Garcia grew up in San Juan and ended up traveling north with her family. While there, one of her daughters required the surgery to remove her tonsils.
“One time out of that whole time, my children were assisted medically,” she said. “I went to the gentleman in charge of the monies, and I’ll always remember that I thought: ‘One of these days, I will do something for the migrant worker. I will go up and beyond.’”
Up and beyond means helping the Harvest of Hope Foundation, a group established by Philip Kellerman of Gainesville, Fla., to assist migrant farmworkers and their families across the country.
On her way to deliver shoes Wednesday, she spoke with an area woman about making quilts and blankets to be given out in October.
“I was hoping for 240 blankets, but we narrowed it down to 90,” she said. “And that’s OK. That’s still 90 blankets. That’s 90 families.”
Garcia has a soft spot for migrant families, and not just because of her own experiences. She also worked “38 glorious years” for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, devoting most of that time to helping those families find much-needed help. When she retired, Garcia contacted Kellerman, who established Harvest of Hope in honor and memory of his grandmother.
The foundation has helped with vehicle repairs, transportation, housing, utilities, rent, medical services and prescriptions, clothing, food, funerals and legal costs. It also has assisted migrant students attending college and has awarded grants to health and support service groups for migrant families.
“Federal, state and local aid to those who harvest and produce our nation’s fruits, vegetables and other foods is limited and often not available at all,” Kellerman said. “The goals of Harvest of Hope are to open the eyes of individuals to the hard work and struggles of our nation’s migrant farmworkers while filling in some of the gaps in service to this population.”
Those gaps are myriad, and filling them often is so simple. Something many people take for granted, such as having a turkey on the Thanksgiving table, can mean so much to those who have never been able to afford a turkey, Garcia said.
She recalled delivering a turkey to a family in 2003 — the first turkey they’d ever had. Garcia still is in touch with them today. They call her “the turkey lady.” She calls them part of her family.
Garcia said she is “blessed.” If not for her “families,” she and her husband would have missed out on many a quinceañera and wedding.
Instead, they receive hugs at the grocery store and what she calls “warm fuzzies” when they visit homes.
“When you give something with all your heart, the lord bestows double blessings on you,” she said. “I have been double-blessed. I have done something good for them, and they have done something good for me.”
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Allyson Reynolds Dixon is a deputy metro editor at The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4454.