Union families gather on Workers Memorial Day to remember men and women who lost their lives on the job the previous year.
“This year, we wanted to do something different,” said Kyle Henderson, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.
So on Saturday, about 30 members of council-affiliated unions grabbed shovels and helped start a living memorial to deceased workers. They planted about 40 dwarf apple trees whose fresh fruit will help feed the hungry.
(This year, Workers Memorial Day is Sunday. But many unions held observances on Saturday.)
More than 250 men, women and kids pitched in to boost Project Pomona, a city nonprofit started by Bryant Hileman.
He said many times local food pantries are swamped by the need for food. Project Pomona is designed to reduce the number of food insecure households by planting and cultivating orchards and donating the harvest to the food pantries.
Hileman named his nonprofit for the Roman goddess of fruitful abundance.
Project Pomona has raised nearly $20,000 since it began in March, 2018. More information is available from the organization’s Facebook page or from an article posted on Forward Kentucky. Contributions can be made by visiting gofundme.com/project-pomona.
Henderson said Hileman is a strong supporter of area unions, which donated funds to build a greenhouse for the orchard whose trees are expected to bear fruit in three to five years.
"In Memory of All Workers Killed on the Job," says a plaque Hileman put on a post in front of the greenhouse. "May Their Sacrifices For Their Families Not Be In Vain." Also inscribed on the plaque are "Mother" Jones's famous words: "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."
After the little trees were in the ground, Hileman gathered the union members for a group photo by the greenhouse.
"Thank you for coming out," he said. "My father was a working person; I'm a working person; my grandfather was a working person. Working people built this and this is for working people."
"This is a great community event," said Jimmy Evans, business manager of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 816. Bryant does a great job and this is a great way to honor workers who lost their lives."
Jeff Wiggins agreed. "We are observing Workers Memorial Day as part of a great community event," said the secretary-treasurer of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. "We get two birds with one stone."
Wiggins, who lives in Reidland, a Paducah suburb, preceded Henderson as area council president. "As a labor leader, I'm here to support the community," said council Vice President Howard "Bubba" Dawes who also served under Wiggins.
"This is something that the whole community can come out and see and not for just one day," said Dusty Owens of Local 816.
See photos of the program from Forward Kentucky.