In the fruit-growing region boarding Kent and Ottawa Counties — known as “the Ridge” — Mary Rangel is ready to serve her migrant neighbors any time they’re in need.
“These families are very needed and needy,” she said. “They come and work with our farmers in the area and we need them to get the crops picked — yet, they are underserved.”
Mary is employed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and helps migrant community members sign up for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), one of the only federal hunger-relief programs they’re typically eligible for. However, she does so much more. Monthly, she runs Feeding America West Michigan Mobile Pantries, which serve anyone in need. On her own time, she does outreach. And, since she lives in the community, neighbors visit her home any time of day knowing she has resources to offer.
After 16 years working for MDHHS, first as a translator and now in her current position, Mary has built strong bonds.
“I have a passion for the migrants because I’ve been there, done that,” she said. “I speak the language. I have their trust.”
Mary was born in Grant to a migrant family and grew up going to the local school back when, she said, “If you spoke Spanish, you were put in special ed.”
During summer, she would join her family in the fields, something she remembers fondly — “It didn’t kill us. It made us who we are today,” she said.
Although she has fond memories of her upbringing, there were downsides, too. Back then, many migrant communities had just one bathroom for multiple families. Today, most housing situations are better, but they still range in quality.
After high school, Mary planned to become a nurse, but a marriage and baby changed her career trajectory. She raised her four kids in northern Kent County and is proud that they worked in the fields as she did, something that is not allowed today. Now, they are grown up with careers of their own.
“I taught my children our culture, our values, our religion, our traditions — and mainly about working,” she said.
Mary’s beliefs and values are reflected each day as she fights to ensure her community has access to the resources they need. These neighbors in turn ensure our community can access, in Mary’s words, “the fruits and vegetables we love so much.”