When refugees and immigrants are vetted and approved and finally reach faith-based centers in Texas border towns, many of their shoes are flopping around their feet.
Their shoelaces are confiscated at the border as a safety precaution. The concern is they might attempt suicide in the detention centers before they reach their families, friends, sponsors or other shelters in the United States.
Promise Pointe, Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament Convent, People of Hope, Christ the Victor Lutheran Church and the Islamic Center are working together locally to provide much needed assistance to these centers through a monthlong Cards for the Border program.
The centers are located in Brownsville, San Juan, McAllen, Eagle Pass and Laredo, and they serve as the first stop as the immigrants and refugees enter the country legally. Crossroads residents can purchase gift cards to help meet basic human needs for about 250 people arriving daily at each location.
“This is one way to reach out to our sisters and brothers, and they are our sisters and brothers, and see the face of Jesus in each one of them,” said Sister Stephana Marbach. “For those who cannot or are not able to go and assist, this is a way to help.”
That’s about 1,250 total people each day, or 8,750 each week, moving through these centers, and the centers are overwhelmed, Marbach said. The immigrants and refugees typically stay at these locations no longer than 24 hours before moving to their next destinations.
Those interested in helping are urged to purchase gift cards from stores that sell shoelaces. H-E-B, Walmart, Target and department stores are among those suggested. The gift cards can either be dropped off at one of five locations or mailed.
The centers provide showers and a safe place to sleep, but they also provide their guests with food and overdue changes of clothing, among other essentials. Some of the people need medications they have gone without.
The centers work to unite their guests with friends or family in the country when they have them, and that sometimes means purchasing bus tickets.
Marbach stressed the importance of “being aware of the suffering people at the border, the overwhelming sad situation, that help is needed as people are waiting to be processed – that human needs are not being met.”
The Victoria volunteers met Monday at the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament Convent to mail their first batch of gift cards, totaling $2,100, which they divided among the five locations. So far, the donations have been generated by information in the local organizations’ bulletins and word of mouth.
The volunteers will continue collecting gift cards through Aug. 31. They will continue meeting to mail the cards every Monday through Sept. 2.
Pastor Bill Hassel with People of Hope initiated the project after a Communities of Faith meeting, but said in an email, “It is a God thing, not a Bill thing.”
“It is not any organization or group. It is just an idea of like-minded people who care for our neighbors in need,” Hassel said. “We are Catholic, Lutheran and Muslim.”
Sister Rebecca Janacek, executive director of Promise Pointe, a faith-based, nondenominational nonprofit that provides housing for the homeless, said the gift cards are a good way to help the volunteers at the border, some of whom the Victoria volunteers know personally, purchase what they need. Janacek served as a missionary in Kenya, Africa, for 30 years.
Many from the drought- stricken countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua walked 2,000 miles to reach the U.S. border. Some were traumatized, perhaps raped or robbed of what little they had, along the way, said Sister Mildred Truchard.
“Many come because of climate change – they are dying, desperate and starving,” Truchard said. “We’re just tapping the surface of the needs, but we believe we need to do something to get more involved.”
Pastor Cheryl Kester-Schmidt, of Christ the Victor Lutheran Church, said she cannot imagine the experiences of people making these long treks, especially with young children.
“I can’t imagine pushing a stroller with three kids hanging on me,” Kester-Schmidt said. “I can barely get two kids in the car.”
Her family is one of her main motivations for getting involved in the project. She has 10 grandchildren, and four of them are from other countries. Her daughter and son-in-law adopted their daughter from El Salvador. At age 8, she saw her biological mother and father shot during a rebellion.
“As a group, we are God’s hands and feet,” Kester- Schmidt said. “We are to advocate for the poor and the disenfranchised, and this is a way to help ease the burden on the front line.”
All Americans are descendants of immigrants, whether legal or illegal, who came to this country for opportunity, Hassel said.
“We all know someone here had mercy and love for one of our own ancestors,” he said. “They were given such things as a drink of water, something to eat, something to wear, a ride to town, and other simple and needed things.”
Some were looking for better lives, others for safer lives and still others for freedom, he continued.
“That’s what we are about, helping these kinds of people, like our ancestors were helped,” Hassel said.