Barbecue Brings Together Day Laborers and Police

Posted on August 4, 2017 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Creating a Community

Ashley Jacks, a Catholic Charities summer intern from Elon University in North Carolina, recalls her experience at the day laborers’ barbecue she attended Sunday, July 30, in Yonkers, NY.

By Ashley Jacks

Walking down Oak Street, I passed a few depressed and dilapidated buildings before seeing a large Catholic Charities banner affixed to a chain-link fence protecting a lush garden. I knew I had found the location of the barbecue, which was held in honor of local day laborers. These are men who stand on street corners in the early morning, waiting to be hired, often by local contractors, just for the day. Those in attendance had plots in the garden that allowed them to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs to feed themselves and their families.

Catholic Charities has an ongoing involvement with the United Laborers of Yonkers (Obreros Unidos de Yonkers) to ensure day laborers are aware of their rights and responsibilities upon employment to prevent their exploitation and abuse.

Catholic Charities Day Laborers
Obreros Unidos de Yonkers with Monsignor Kevin Sullivan

I was met by Catholic Charities’ regional supervisor Esmeralda Hoscoy, who eagerly introduced me in Spanish to the day laborers and their families who had already arrived. This eased all my nerves about being in a new place but one: “How would I communicate with the families?” Spanish is one of the languages I haven’t taken.

My concern was over nothing, as more than 20 smiling faces welcomed me under the tent that had been set up in the garden. Not long after, four officers from Yonkers’ 2nd and 3rd Precincts trickled in and were invited to join the circle of white plastic lawn chairs. The officers had been invited to the barbecue to celebrate the unity between officers and the community.


Unity between Officers and the Community

Yonkers Police at another community event with Catholic Charities

Esmeralda made her way to the center of the tent and thanked everyone for being there before explaining what the barbecue represented:

“Today is to celebrate the unity between the community and the police and other agencies; to come together and be together, to have a little food,” she said, smiling. She then introduced Lucy Moreno-Casanova, who has been with the garden for over 20 years.

Lucy explained how Yonkers Community Action Program (YCAP) and Greyston, the social enterprise program where Lucy works, partnered with Catholic Charities to transform the lot. For over 40 years, it had been a junkyard. Everything from ruins of cars to trash was laid to rest in the lot.

Many from the community—YCAP, Greyston, Catholic Charities, day laborers and even students from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers—worked diligently to clear the lot. After repeatedly clearing out candles and other paraphernalia that appeared to have ties to witchcraft, they called in Father Elliot from a nearby church to bless the land and reset the energy.


Getting to Know the Officers
  • Officer Campanini is the 3rd Precinct caption and grew up just a few blocks away from the garden. He assured the community members in attendance that he shared their concerns, having grown up walking the very streets they live on.

  • Officer Behan is the caption of the 2nd Precinct, the neighborhood where the day laborers wait to be picked up and given work. He told the workers and their families the neighborhood welcomes them and the stores and other local businesses appreciate them.

  • Officers McCormick, a 3rd Precinct patrol captain, and Irizarry, an officer under Campanini’s command, also stressed how welcome the day laborers are in the community.

A laborer then rose and shared how he’s lost his fear of the police. He said he appreciates the time the officers take to continually show up to community events. Then he addressed his fellow workers and agreed that the police are, in fact, on the community’s side.


Creating a Caring Community

“We want the community to care,” Campanini said. “That’s why events like this happen. Getting people to care is the first step to eliminating community issues.”

The officers then took part in a panel discussion as workers and their families began asking questions about concerns they have.

One man stood and asked what he was to do about neighborhood men who roamed the streets, threatening the laborers and others and demanding money from them.

  • “Call the police. Immediately,” Irizarry said. The officers need to know when these things happen. If the occurrences keep taking place in a particular area, more officers will be assigned there.

What should they do about the people who neglect to clean up after their dog has used the bathroom on the sidewalk?

  • “Report them,” Campanini said. Again, if the officers are made aware of when and where incidents happen, they can better work to stop them.


A New Perspective

Having the opportunity to attend the day laborers’ barbecue was a blessing. I enjoyed getting to watch the families mingle with each other and with the police officers. It was heartwarming to see the eagerness with which the officers welcomed the comments and concerns throughout the barbecue.

Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever seen officers given such a warm welcome—not even in my small hometown of around 4,000 people.

Find out more about Catholic Charities services for immigrant workers