The Local, November 22, 2023
It’s been almost 14 months since Ceto Reid, a 20 year veteran of the farm work program, experienced a life altering accident.
On Oct.6, 2022 he was riding his bicycle back to his bunkhouse in Virgil, carrying a large load of laundry from the nearest laundromat almost 8 km away in St. Catharines. He was preparing to return to Jamaica the next day after the completion of his 8 month contract at P.G.Enns farm. He never made it back.
A car plowed into his bicycle at a Carlton St. intersection that afternoon. His injuries required extensive surgery in Hamilton where he spent the next few weeks. Pain, isolation and anxiety about the future were constantly on his mind during the hospitalization that followed.
It’s a familiar story. In addition to the physical and emotional stress, injured or ill farm workers still have immediate expenses for food and necessities. There is a typical eight week wait before receiving sick benefits with the result that they are unable to provide for their families back home.
What Ceto did not expect was the wave of generosity from members of the community in Niagara-on-the-Lake who rallied to support him after his release from the hospital.
Volunteers at the Farmworkers Hub saw to it that meals and groceries were delivered to the bunkhouse on a regular basis. Kathy Brown, manager of the Virgil Avondale, raised funds and community awareness through the store. Members of the Buy Nothing Facebook group provided a recliner, a televison and mobility devices necessary for his recovery.
A few weeks later Ceto was informed that he would be receiving a portion of the funds raised at the Candlelight Stroll in Niagara on the Lake. He had no idea what the Candlelight Stroll was and doubted he would be able to participate due to the fragility of his injuries. With a great deal of encouragement and a wheelchair, the impossible became reality as he met with organizers and local politicians in the courthouse prior to the start of the stroll.
Nothing could have prepared him for the sight of the expectant crowd which greeted him as he was wheeled around the corner of the courthouse at the start of the festivities.
After lighting the first candle he watched in amazement as the flickering of the candles spread exponentially through the crowd. He was carefully assisted into the horse drawn carriage and lead the crowd through the beautifully decorated streets on a surreal experience of a lifetime.
In the long winter months that followed Julia Buxton Cox organized a Whats App group to coordinate assistance as well as arranging rides to Hamilton for follow up appointments. Regular phone calls and visits helped to alleviate the isolation while living alone in the bunkhouse.
Despite the hope that he could return home in the spring the doctors felt it was in his best interest to stay where his progress and physiotherapy could be monitored.
With the return of his coworkers in March he needed to find accessible accomodations, again made possible by a caring community.
It has been a long haul, with recovery taking longer than he had hoped. He is no longer using a walker but relies on a cane for stability.
Recently Ceto was overjoyed to hear that he had been cleared to return home.
Last Thursday we met the night before his return for some reminiscing.
He has no idea what the future holds but for now he is anxious to be reunited with family, friends and his faith community back home.
Reid hopes that someday the good friends he has made in Niagara will be able to visit him at his home in St.Elizabeth, Jamaica. He reminded me of the time we watched a video on Youtube that took us on a virtual trip, travelling the country roads leading to his hometown. He could scarcely believe he would be driving along those same roads within 24 hours.
“ I have so much to be thankful for. I am so grateful for all the support from the people in Niagara on the Lake. Drivers, people bringing me groceries, helping me in so many ways.”
He paused to reflect for a moment, then added that he never could have thought it possible. “Please tell them all thank you for me. May God bless them and may He help them continue to do their good work.”
His suitcase was packed and ready to go. He pointed out his blue laundry bag sporting a long gash in the fabric that he is bringing home. A reminder of a tragedy that was redeemed by the love of a caring community,
“And I hope that when the guys are doing their laundry on the new (washing) machines they will remember me, “he grinned with a twinkle in his eye.