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Boys 1st birthday gift: Donations for migrant workers

Birthday parties usually see guests bringing presents for the person's birthday. But one boy's 1st birthday was a little different on June 5.

Britt Thomas and Jose Rubio of Statesboro decided to do the collection for their son Jairo's 1st birthday, after seeing a flier for an organization.

"We reached out to a program that's housed at Georgia Southern University, and I saw a flier a year or two ago back when I didn't have the means to help them," Thomas said. "But they were collecting quality-of-life items for this drive that they had. It was a drive for migrant farmers out in the field to receive proper health care and quality-of-life items ranged from Tylenol to antibiotics to socks and toothpaste and toothbrushes, so we decided to reach out to that because it was something that reached close to home with us."

The organization Thomas and her family donated to was the Magnolia Coastlands Area Health Education Center, also known as Magnolia Coastlands AHEC.

The family decided to do the collection not just to help out, but also as a way to honor their family history.

"I come from a migrant family and, growing up from when I was 6 years old until 18, I did a lot of work in the fields with my parents," said Jose Rubio a groundskeeper at GSU and Jairo's father. "I got to see firsthand what they go through and what all they need. How much little things like this can help, and that's one of the reasons why I agreed with Britt to do all this. I felt like it was a way to give back or at least help someone who I know is struggling."

They felt the collection was a way for their son to remember his family's history and to show him the "act of giving to others," Thomas said.

This was an idea that had remained with Thomas for a while since she had seen the flier the first time, which prompted the idea of the donations. Thomas is a speech therapist for Bulloch County Schools who sees the children of migrant workers in school. This year, she works at Sallie Zetterower and Langston Chapel elementary schools.

"We were at Starbucks and we saw the flier and it's just something that I always remembered 'cause I was like, ‘Man, I want to help out,' because I had heard his stories," Thomas said. "And there's kids that I work with in the school systems who can't play with other kids on the weekends because they have to go help their parents out in the fields."

Thomas said it was a "mixture" of Rubio's stories and what she had seen with those students in her school that helped her make the decision.

The Magnolia AHEC welcomed the collection of quality-of-life items donated by the family.

"I couldn't believe that Britt had done this," said Amanda Catron, a staff assistant and the contact person for collections at AHEC. "She walked, had her son in a wagon, brought him here on her own time and wheeled him in his little wagon and a box full of donations for his 1st birthday."

The organization aims to help migrant workers in more than 39 counties in Georgia ranging from helping them address medical needs to giving out lifestyle supplies, said Mary Kate Pung, the director of Magnolia Coastlands AHEC for Georgia Southern.

"Our purpose is to improve the supply and distribution of professionals in our region in southeast Georgia. We have several ways of doing that. We kind of call it ‘Recruit, Train and Retain' health professionals, and the ‘train' part is where this project falls into," Pung said. "We train health profession students, and one thing we do is work with a couple of organizations to set up clinics for migrant workers."

Students work at the clinics throughout Tattnall, Candler, and Toombs counties to help with different medical processes for the migrant workers in the area.

Magnolia AHEC collects different quality-of-life items for the migrant workers at the clinics, Pung said.

The organization reaches out to both the Georgia Southern University campuses and the community to help with donations and collections for the clinics, Carton said.

Thomas said the family would like to continue to do collections in the future and plans one for this Christmas.

"We would also like to do it again for his birthday, but we may do other charities as he is able to become more aware of the world around him," Thomas said. "As he's older, I would like for him to start picking what he would like donations for for his birthday"

Doing the collections has become an important part of their family that they wish would extend to others.

"It would just be nice to see other parents do this more and not only just for the migrant workers, but for other organizations," Rubio said. "Because if we all just pitched in just a little bit, I bet this world would be a better place. There are so many people in need - not only, like I said, the migrant workers, but homeless people, and its just bad. It is social problems that we hid under the rug. They're there."


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