Grant, John and I have just finished our first day volunteering in McAllen, Texas. It was inspiring, exhausting, exhilarating, sobering, emotional and hopeful. We are so glad and grateful to be here.
We started at the McAllen Bus station where many migrants depart for the city where their asylum hearing will be. These trips are long, tiring and complicated, involving many bus changes. Grant and John reviewed each families’ itinerary with them, translating their journey into Spanish and marking it on a map. They made sure families had a chance to reach relatives in their home countries, and that they had food and money. The station was quieter than it has been in previous months because the Catholic Charities respite center has moved from across the street to a much bigger facility two miles away. As a result, much of the action, and the need, is now at the respite center. In addition, one of the major bus companies is now picking migrants up from the Center instead of the bus station.
Mid morning the boys joined me at the center Catholic Charities has set up to welcome, orient, and feed migrants, as well as provide them with showers, a clean set of clothes, and a place to sleep if their bus does not depart until the next day (or two or three). The Center is run with incredible love and order. Over the course of the day and evening, more than 400 men, women and many, many children, primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras arrived from the ICE detention center nearby. They were shell shocked, exhausted, scared and grateful. Volunteers greeted them, registered them, explained the process, gave them their bus tickets, and helped them make contact with their sponsor. It was organized chaos at all times.
We spent our day serving hot meals, organizing clothes rooms, helping each person select a new outfit, assisting with showers, towel laundry, snack bag prep and all the needs and questions that arise when someone enters our country for the first time. Although there are volunteers- regulars and visitors like us- the need and the volume of work is overwhelming and endless. The minute one meal is cleaned up another bus has arrived with hungry people. I made a mid day run to WalMartfor 200 beanies, and 200 pairs of socks and underwear and they were gone in an hour. I am grateful Catholic Charities has clear guidelines about what each person can take, I wanted to give everything to everyone. The majority of migrants range in age from newborn (3 days old, born in detention center) to about 40. As people selected clothing, we talked with them about where they were going and helped them pick for their new climate. it was meaningful to connect one on one and very sobering to see the ankle monitors they all had to wear. We are in awe of their courage and resilience.
Huge thanks to all of you for your emotional, financial and clothing donation support of our trip- it has all been put to good use!