With a hint of Summer’s intense heat already piercing North Carolina, the Catholic Charities (DOR) Cape Fear Regional team is preparing to protect our neighbors, who work or live outside in the extremely hot temperatures of the South. In 2023, Regional Director Emilie Hart began focusing on heat-related dangers facing people who work outside after learning of a fatal incident involving farm workers. “Last year we heard that two farmworkers died of dehydration. We responded by setting up at the migrant Head Start with waters, liquid IVs, and hydrating produce to promote rationing and do some education,” said Hart.

The groundwork began after the tragic deaths last summer, but this is the first official year Catholic Charities has organized specific “hydration packs,” and sought funding to purchase hydrating foods and other items. The Cape Fear team applied for and was awarded a Harrelson Center Be the Light grant to fund “hydration packs” for farm workers or others suffering in the summer heat.

This is the second Catholic Charities project the Harrelson Center has funded.  The Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center Inc. is a North Carolina nonprofit corporation (501c3) that supports and partners with other nonprofit organizations in the Wilmington community. The Center works with its partners to meet community needs in areas such as safe and affordable housing, education, employment, health care and family support. Be the Light  is a bi-annual learning and serving opportunity where youth from the Harrelson Center’s Help Hub member churches gather for fun and service activities to address needs in our community. Past projects included assembling: gift bags for women in domestic shelters, welcome home baskets for displaced families, hurricane preparedness kits, and more. Be the Light also funded Catholic Charities Cape Fear Regional Office in 2018 for its “birthday kit” project for children living in poverty.

This year’s “hydration packs” project is equally rewarding for volunteers and could be life saving for someone in need this summer. The Harrelson Center’s Be the Light spring event brought non-profit leaders and Wilmington youth together to assemble the “hydration packs” and learn more about why they are needed and how the kits will help protect farm workers in the fields on long hot summer days.

Emilie said, “the packs include refillable water bottles, liquid IVs, sunscreen, bug spray, cooling towels, an electrolyte mix, a bandana, and of course water. We also talk with workers and emphasize the need to drink water and take extra breaks to avoid getting dizzy, passing out, or worse…dying.”

First Christian Church of Wilmington Assistant Pastor Courtney Hickman shared the Be the Light experience on the church’s Facebook page. She wrote, “we had a chance to put together some of these packs ourselves, and understanding the need behind them made the work even more meaningful. In Matthew 25, Jesus calls us to the care of such needs when he says Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink…. I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend too much time being thirsty or being too aware of those in our community who are. So, I am grateful for this chance to have my heart softened and my mind opened. I am grateful to be a little bit more aware of the suffering around me and how I might respond. I am grateful that each time we take part in these events, we all come a little bit closer to being the light.”

The Catholic Charities (DOR) Cape Fear team will meet with farm workers later this month to give out “hydration packs” and stress the importance of drinking plenty of water this summer. Staff will also follow up again in June at the migrant Head Start and give out more hydration supplies and additional heat safety information to parents.