Community News

Where day laborers get their fair shake

Merrick woman keeps Freeport hiring trailer operating

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Merokean Liz O’Shaughnessy swung by the cement-gray trailer at the east end of Bennington Avenue in Freeport in November 2008.

“The place was packed,” recalled O’Shaughnessy of the facility, squeezed between a window factory and a truck yard, which gives immigrant day laborers a safe place to wait for landscapers and contractors to pick them up for jobs.

O’Shaughnessy, who grew up in Rockville Centre, came to donate a bagful of her son’s old jeans. Her charitable act altered the course of her life.

Soon the 40-something former stock trader, who became a part-time yoga instructor and landscape designer after her two children were born, was volunteering to teach English at the site, which attracts mainly laborers from Central and South America. That led O’Shaughnessy to set up a nonprofit corporation –– CoLoKi Inc. (Compassion, Love, Kindness) –– to save the trailer when it appeared that it would close for good this past year.

Catholic Charities established the Freeport Trailer Hiring Site in 2002. The facility was needed, according to the charity and the Village of Freeport, because too many laborers were hanging out on dangerous corners around the nearby Home Depot on Sunrise Highway.

The trailer closed from May 2009 to last January because fewer than two dozen workers were coming each day, not enough to justify its cost, according to Sandra Dunn, immigration program officer for the nonprofit Hagedorn Foundation in Port Washington, which has been the site’s primary funding source in recent years.

CoLoKi took over the trailer from Catholic Charities on Feb. 24 and now runs it with a grant from Hagedorn, donations from O’Shaughnessy’s family and friends and the aid of her sister, Katie McFeely Linkner of Massapequa, who volunteers at the site on Wednesdays.

O’Shaughnessy speaks basic Spanish and traveled four times to Mexico as a student at Villanova in the 1980s to visit the Casa Hogar orphanage in Tepatitlan de Morelos, which her parents supported. O’Shaughnessy, who receives a small stipend from the Hagedorn grant, has attracted as many as 50 workers a day. She expects 100 over the winter.

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