Yesterday and today we have been in the presence of true heroes. From early morning to well after dinner we saw volunteers work to meet the needs of the brave men, women and children trying to make a safer life for themselves in America. The volunteers we were privileged to help this week were all action. They define the phrase “walk the talk.”  With few words, and no complaints, these heroes do what need to be done, all day, everyday.
Wednesday morning and all day today we worked at Catholic Charities. Grant went with Sister Ann, a hero who as been at the respite center for 30 years, to shop for ham and cheese for 800 sandwiches, while John sorted clothes and helped exhausted and excited women pick a new outfit for the next part of their journey.  I shopped for more socks, leggings, beanies and gloves, ran towel laundry and sorted clothing donations.   Later the three of us served lunch and made 100 snack bags and 400 sandwiches, the first of 3 rounds of travel provisions made each day. In addition to an outfit, each migrant leaves Catholic Charity with a bag of snacks, 4 ham and cheese sandwiches and two bottles of water as well as a stocked toiletry kit and shoelaces (theirs have been taken by ICE due to concern about suicide).  Their bus trips range from 1 to 6 days and this may be the only food and supplies they have.
With the exception of registering the migrants as they arrive, which requires both fluency and specialized training, no one tells anyone what to do, people just jump in and do it. And somehow more than 400 people a day receive three hot meals, a place to sleep, a shower, clean clothes, a travel bag, specific instructions about their journey, reassurance, answers to their questions and lots of good cheer. In each room we worked along side heroes who come everyday to help. In addition to a small group of nuns and Catholic Charities staff, there are many volunteers, including  a number of retirees who spend winters in Texas and come 6 days a week to the Center to help.  Others we met were here on “vacation”, spending a week, two or four, volunteering full time.  Many come annually. All true heroes. The place hums with love and action.
Early Wednesday afternoon we departed for Los Fresnos to make dinner for migrants sleeping just over the border in Mexico while they wait for their name to be called to move to an ICE detention center. Along with heroes Sharmin and Mark, regular volunteers for the past 7 years, we cooked for about 60 people and then drove as close as we could to the bridge crossing the Rio Grande. We met Gaby and other members of the incredible Team Brownsville there, loaded everything into carts and walked across the bridge into Mexico. Hero Gaby makes this trek 6 nights a week.  Our first stop over the bridge was a small encampment that volunteers had set up for the migrants. 60 or so people have cots, blankets and a tarp over their heads as they wait weeks or months for their name to be called. There seems to be no predictable process for when one might get called. The dinner Team Brownsville provides, 7 nights a week, 365 days a year, is the only meal people have each day. In addition to warm food, Gaby and her group of heroes bring medicine, diapers, feminine products, blankets, jackets, gloves and hats.  Two nights ago Gaby took 4 kids to the doctor during dinner for antibiotics. They do what needs to be done. Every single day.
People were so grateful for the food and care. The boys talked to everyone and helped two families call relatives in Guatemala for the first time since they left home. We then walked to the second bridge and fed another dozen people lined up on top of the bridge. They have blankets but no cover (not allowed by border patrol) and it rained all night. The migrants’ determination and stamina are heroic.   This group of  volunteer heroes have an incredible system in place to be sure the cooking schedule gets filled, carts are stocked, sick migrants are checked on and  information about numbers, ICE, and border patrol activity is passed on nightly.
We are looking forward to returning to the respite center tomorrow before heading home tomorrow evening. While it will take a long time to process all we have seen and had the privilege to participate in, a few things are very clear to us:
Our world is full of really good people.
Kindness goes a long, long way in helping people. And it’s free and it’s easy.
Everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
Everyone wants the best for their children.
While the world may feel dark right now, what we’ve seen here in McAllen and Brownsville gives us great hope for the future.