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Tri- IHM Community Border Updates Summer 2021

The joint volunteer project of the three IHM Congregations Monroe (M), Scranton, Pa. (S) and Immaculata, Pa. (I) with Catholic Charities of the San Diego Diocese marked its midpoint this past week.  Scranton IHM Sister, Mary Elaine Anderson, who advocated for the joint volunteer project and who has been in El Centro, Calif. since the project’s beginning, has also been writing a weekly update. The updates offer a glimpse into the work and life shared by the three congregations over the first seven weeks. Participants have included Mary Elaine Anderson, Jeannette Lucey, Constance Touey, Kathy Benham, Margaret Chapman, Margaret Joseph Pavluchuk, Mary Katherine Hamilton, Dora Lezovich, Christine Cunningham, Mary Catherine Chamberlain, Donna Korba, Jean Hennelly, Eileen Reilly, Marian Gregory Mazzotta, Denise Montagne, Patricia Michael Godoy, Fran Small, Kathleen Brown, Teresa Catherine Walsh, Kim Redigan, Marge Polys, Vicki Koivu-Rybicki, Margie Langer, Teresa Haug.

Week 10

Greetings from the El Centro Team of twelve! All of us are now home (Monroe, Detroit, Philadelphia, Reading and Scranton).

Week 10 was a bittersweet one. It was filled with welcomes and goodbyes. Patricia, Marian Gregory and Denise were the first to leave on June 30. The other nine of us left on July 3. However, before our departure, we were able to welcome Susan Kuk and Agnes Cummings who arrived on the afternoon of July 2.

It was hard to say goodbye to the staff of Catholic Charities after having worked side by side with them for so many weeks. On Thursday, July 1, Catholic Charities surprised us with a farewell luncheon. I think the presence of 12 IHM sisters and friends at one time left a lasting impression on them!

During Week 10, we also saw a surge in the number of asylum seekers crossing the US-Mexican border and being released by the Border Patrol. We welcomed 60-70 new immigrants each day. That meant more daily trips to the airport. Most days at least six IHMs were in the vans to Yuma, Imperial or San Diego transporting asylum seekers to the airport where they had flights to different parts of the U.S. 

At the same time, the site in El Centro was closing and all the personnel and materials had to be relocated at the hotel in Holtville. Fortunately, the hotel gave us another office area connected to the current one and a large space to organize the donated clothes. We spent a few days in chaos amid at least 50 bags of clothing, shoes and toys brought from Catholic Charities in San Diego as well as everything else that came from the site in El Centro. However, our IHM team of 12 was able to put things in good order by our last afternoon of volunteering.

The IHM work with asylum seekers will continue in El Centro until July 24 with the presence of Susan, Agnes, Annette and Francis Xavier. Five sisters (Rita, Mary Margaret, Mimi, Rose Patrice and Barbara) will be volunteering with Catholic Charities in San Diego from July 17 to 31. Although there will be no Monroe or Scranton IHM joining them in July, they can be assured of the prayerful support of all three IHM congregations. 

For those of us who have returned to our local communities and ministries, we are left with so much to ponder and reflect upon:

     – It is hard to understand the injustices of a system that separates children 18 years of age from their parents and siblings because the U.S. considers them adults or that sends grandmothers and grandfathers to a detention center because they are not considered members of their son’s or daughter’s nuclear family. 

     –  We are haunted by the stories of political violence, death threats, hunger, unemployment and lack of health care that impel families to cross the border in search of a place and a community where they can survive and thrive. 

     – We savor each encounter and each relationship and we ask ourselves: What did we learn? How do we share the graces received with our congregations and the wider community? How do we live now after so many weeks of being “on fire” with God’s unconditional love?

Let us pray for one another … for the IHMs who continue to serve in El Centro and San Diego and for those of us who have returned. May we be able to integrate our experiences in a way that is meaningful for us personally and congregationally and that directly and positively impacts our world!

With grateful hearts,

El Centro Team of 12 (Patricia, Marian Gregory, Denise, Margie, Terri, Kathy, Fran, Teresa, Kim, Vicki, Marge and Mary Elaine)     

Week 9 (June 19-July 2)

Greetings from our IHM Team — 12 sisters and associates — volunteering in El Centro, CA!

This past week the team continued to help Catholic Charities transport asylum seekers to the closest airports (Imperial, Yuma and San Diego) fromwhere they would fly to meet their families across the US. We have had the privilege to hear many stories directly from the immigrants while accompanying them to or staying with them in the airport. It is heart-breaking to listen to the struggles that they encountered along the way (the hundreds of miles that they walked, their lack of food, clothing and other resources, the assaults and other abuses that they endured). It takes great courage and deep faith for families to leave their homes and extended families to cross the border into the US. The separation of 18-year-old children (whom the US views as adults) from their parents and siblings once they have been picked up by the Border Patrol in the US has caused such heartbreak for so many families! Older women and men also have been separated from their adult sons and daughters and their grandchildren and have been sent to detention centers while their families have been released by the Border Patrol for travel to their final destinations. It is devastating for families to continue on without knowing where a family member is!

Our team also has been helping the Catholic Charities staff prepare for the move from the hotel/shelter in El Centro to the site in Holtville. Starting today (Monday, June 28), all asylum seekers (those who tested positive as well as those who tested negative for Covid) released by the Border Patrol will remain at the hotel in Holtville. We have been asked to set up the space where immigrants who test negative for covid can go to look for clothes. Unfortunately, the space is still being renovated and cleaned by the hotel maintenance crew.  We have been working in two spare rooms where bags of clothing, shoes, stuffed animals, etc. are piled high. One of those rooms has to be emptied ASAP because it is needed to accommodate the personnel moving from the El Centro site. On a positive note … we IHMs are organized and like a challenge!

After this experience, we all could get jobs at the Salvation Army or at a secondhand clothes store!

Relationships truly are an important part of our experience at the border. We feel a greater connection to the asylum seekers that we have met, to one another and to the Catholic Charities staff. This past week Mariela, a caseworker for Catholic Charities, invited us to a barbecue at her home. We met her husband and two daughters and were welcomed as part of the family. We were nourished with authentic Mexican food.  It was a night to remember the people (including the staff) we have met in these past weeks and to be grateful for them and how they have touched our lives.

We are praying for those IHMs who soon will be coming to the border. Four of you–Susan, Agnes, Annette and Francis Xavier–will be working with the staff in Holtville. They are a dedicated group of women and men who will be grateful for your presence. The five of you who will be going to San Diego –Mimi, Barbara, Rita, Rose Patrice and Mary Margaret– will have a new experience with asylum seekers, Catholic Charities staff and possibly sisters from other congregations. We will look forward to hearing from the nine of you who will represent our three IHM congregations from July 3 – 31!

With grateful hearts,

Team El Centro (Kathy, Fran, Teresa, Kim, Vicki, Margie, Teri, Patricia, Marian Gregory, Marge, Denise and Mary Elaine)

Week 8 [June 12-18]:

We said goodbye to Mary Katherine (M), Dora (M), Donna (S), Terri (S), Mary Catherine (I), Christine (I) and Eileen (I). The new El Centro IHM team took on a new face and flavor with the arrival of Marian Gregory (I), Patricia (I) and Denise (S) on Monday evening, June 14. The quick transition of IHM teams is a little like “Moving Day”. (Remember when all the sisters who were changed to a new mission had a certain day or time frame to leave where they lived and ministered and to settle into their new local community and ministry?) The difference is that “Moving Day” happens every two weeks not every year! Because of the rapid changeover of IHM teams, it seems that each person comes with a desire and passion to make each day and encounter memorable for herself, for the team and for our asylum-seeking brothers and sisters.

For many of us who have had previous border or cross-cultural experiences, the work with asylum seekers in El Centro may not be what we expected. IHM volunteers at the border are gifted and skilled teachers, pastoral workers, counselors, artists, peace and justice activists, etc. and we come with a desire to put those gifts at the service of others. However, the turnover of asylum seekers is also very quick (one day … two days if the family’s sponsor has difficulty finding an air flight for them). Encounters between a sister and an asylum seeker happen during the time of arrival and departure when families are waiting to be checked in or to leave. For van drivers and their co-pilots, accompaniment and encounter take place in the van or at the airport. In many ways, the individual gifts that we bring need to be re-imagined. (My fortune cookie last evening read: “Be imaginative with the use of your skills. Another person’s fortune was: “Be broad-minded in your social activity.”) So … what are we learning individually and collectively as we minister at the border? Perhaps, we are learning that receiving is as valuable as giving and that empowering others is more about being vulnerable and present and not about showing our strength and how skilled we are.

Last week our IHM Team was informed that the work of Catholic Charities in the Imperial Valley (El Centro and Holtville) would be undergoing a few changes. Currently, we have been volunteering at two sites. One of those sites (the hotel in El Centro) will be closing on June 30, and all personnel and volunteers will be working with asylum seekers at the hotel in Holtville. We are part of the transitioning process, and we are going with the flow. Perhaps it’s a small way of being in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters who are in major transition and encountering new experiences every day.

Five IHM sisters and friends–Fran (I), Kathy (I), Teresa (I), Kim (M) and Vicki (M)–arrived on June 21 to begin their two weeks of service in El Centro. The new team encountered an unexpected snag in lodging. The decision was made to vacate House #3 before the team even had a chance to unpack. Fortunately, Nadine, the Director of Immigrant Services for Catholic Charities of San Diego, was able to find hotel rooms for the five at the last minute. The IHMs were flexible and took it all in good stride!

Gathering together in the evening and getting to know one another has been one of the many blessings of our border experience. We are so grateful for the opportunity to accompany our brothers and sisters at the border and to do it collaboratively. It feels like a real celebration of our 175th Anniversary!

With grateful hearts,

Team El Centro

Week 7 [June 5-11]:

Thoughts and good wishes from Team El Centro to all of you who have been here and to those who are anticipating their time to volunteer at the California-Mexico border.

There have been eight IHM sisters and friends (four in each house) in El Centro since Sunday, June 6. We really have enjoyed being with one another … lots of good stories, laughs and deep conversation. Last evening, we gathered for prayer and dessert and to say goodbye to those who will be leaving in the next few days. Mary Katherine (M), Dora (M), Christine (I) and Mary Catherine (I) return to Detroit and Philadelphia today and Donna (S) and Terri (S) head back to Scranton on Sunday morning. Eileen (I) will stay on until Tuesday morning.

The team of two will quickly expand in the days to come. Eileen and Mary Elaine will pick up Patricia, Marian Gregory and Denise at the Yuma Airport on Monday evening. Six more (Marge, Vicki, Kim, Fran, Kathy and Teresa Catherine) will arrive on Saturday. With the appearance of Margie and Terri on June 21, we will be twelve IHMs in El Centro. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who is here and in what house!

Each IHM sister/ friend who arrives seems to have a great desire to see the WALL! The first glimpse of it usually is on the way from the Yuma Airport to El Centro. You can see the wall at a distance from the highway. The expanse of dry, flat desert between you and it makes you aware of how vulnerable people who cross the wall are. The heat in the desert is overwhelming, and the open land makes it easy for the Border Patrol to spot and pick up border crossers.

During our time here, on several occasions all of us have gone to Calexico, a town that sits on the U.S. side of the border, to see the wall close-up. The wall separates Calexico from Mexicali, the border town in Mexico. From the parking lot of the mall in Calexico, you can walk right up to the wall and look through the slats at life on the other side… a residential area with a small street and cars passing by. How did someone decide to build a wall in what appears to be a neighborhood of families? In one of the photos, you can see a backpack hanging from the upper part of the wall on the US side. It’s a reminder of all that is left behind by those who cross the wall. People pack only the essentials in one bag to cross the border. How did this person feel when the wall stripped him/her of the only bag that he/she was carrying?

Some days in El Centro have been busier than others at the hotel/shelter. One day the Border Patrol releases 59, and the next day only 2. When there are a lot of people released, it means more intakes, meals to be served, more people to help find clothing and take to their rooms. The morning after usually is organized chaos. There are so many people who must find flights and then get to the airport! Vans with IHMs as drivers and co-pilots usually are on the road to Yuma or San Diego by 9 a.m.

What the day will bring is unknown until we step into the hotel each morning. Make sure you pack your patience and your flexibility!   Let’s pray for one another as we continue this adventure together.

With grateful hearts,

Team El Centro (Mary Katherine, Dora, Christine, Mary Catherine, Eileen, Donna, Terri and Mary Elaine)

Week 6 [May 29-June 4]:

Greetings from your sisters in El Centro, CA!

Saturday, May 29, we (Eileen and Mary Elaine) met 5 more sisters at the airport. We are now seven IHMs in El Centro, and we are living in two different houses. Several evenings this past week, we gathered after work hours to grill, eat, reflect, pray, tell stories, dream together and laugh! Working and living with IHMs from all three congregations is an added dimension that has enriched our experience at the border.

As for our volunteer service with Catholic Charities … On most days there are two or three trips to the Yuma and/or San Diego Airport. Our IHM van drivers and their co-pilots have become very familiar with the route through the desert (both west and east). They know the airport routine well (tickets and TSA) and could probably get work in a travel agency accompanying international passengers to the airport and caring for them there.

Organizing clothes, art materials and toys as well as checking on and talking to quarantined families continues to be a major part of the work for those who are not on the road to Yuma or San Diego. Each sister has her own unique way of taking the initiative and stepping up to meet the needs of the families and the Catholic Charities personnel. A sense of joy abounds even when we are filling snack bags, restocking the water in the refrigerator, buying clothes, books and puzzles or washing the van!  Holding a baby while the mother looks for clean clothing, kneeling next to a child to help her find a toy that she can play with in her hotel room and answering the questions of adults who are struggling to talk to their families and to find air flights are simple but heartfelt ways to be with the people.

It is great news that those of you who volunteered in the month of July received a green light to come. Agnes, Susan, Annette and Francis Xavier, you can make your flight arrangements for the Yuma, Arizona Airport. As for Mimi, Barbara, Mary Margaret, Rose Patrice and Rita, we are still waiting to hear from Nadine whether you will fly directly to San Diego to help there or come to the Imperial Valley (El Centro and Holtville).

Today we are awaiting the arrival of Terri Jordan. Her presence will make us a border team of eight! Let’s keep one another in prayer as we open ourselves to the pain and suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Let each encounter be meaningful!

With grateful hearts,

Team El Centro (Eileen, Donna, Mary Katherine, Dora, Mary Catherine, Christine and Mary Elaine)

Week 5 [May 22-28]:

Hello from El Centro, CA! Some of you can already picture where this message is coming from because you have been here and others of you will soon come to know it, and we hope love it. As we finish Week 5, we say goodbye to Jeannette and Connie. Thank you, C & J, for your flexibility and willingness to drive wherever and for all the shopping sprees that you made to assure that the children and their families had what they needed to continue their journey.

In the middle of this past week, Sister Eileen Reilly joined us. She came a week early to help with the growing number of asylum seekers that are being released by the Border Patrol and arriving each day at the shelters in Holtville and El Centro. Not sure why there has been an increase in clients? However, there also seems to be an increase in Border Patrol trucks along the route between El Centro and Yuma. Are there more BP trucks because more people are crossing the border, or are more people being picked up because there is a greater presence of BP on the route? I guess the why for the increase is not so important. For us who are volunteering, it simply means more families to welcome and more needs to which we can attend.

Today Eileen and I made the two-hour trip to the San Diego Airport and the two-hour return to Holtville in seven hours. We left from Holtville with eight people, stopped in El Centro to pick up a family of four and then headed for San Diego. We were surprised to find the road west, which winds through the desert and is usually deserted, to be packed with cars for the Memorial Day weekend. We were even more surprised to find the first parking lot at the airport full, and we had to flounder to find the directions for the extra lot. After several U-turns in downtown San Diego and two drive bys of the terminal from which the families were to depart, we finally found the parking lot and had only an hour to check in all twelve passengers. Thankfully the airport scene was uneventful, and all the families passed rapidly through TSA. And that was our day! No folding clothes, organizing boxes, distributing meals, straightening up the play area or checking on the quarantined families at the hotel in Holtville today.  Every day is different and rewarding. It just requires a little flexibility, a good sense of humor, a spirit of adventure … and a great deal of organization!

We are looking forward to the arrival of Donna Korba, Mary Katherine Hamilton, Dora Lezovich, Mary Catherine Chamberlain and Christine Cunningham tomorrow. Donna will join Eileen and me at House #1, and the four others will share House #2. The second house has a grill. That could be fun, especially with Memorial Day right around the corner … although we will be working until about 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. Plus, it is hot outside until about 7:00 p.m.

Terri Haug has rented a car to transport those in House #2 from June 21 to July 3.

Kathy Brown also rented a car for House #3 from June 19 to July 3.

Let us pray for one another … safe travels for those who are returning home and those who will be flying into Yuma tomorrow. May our IHM spirit of joyful, loving, self-emptying and hospitable service be evident to those whom we accompany! May the missionary zeal of Alphonsus, Louis Gillet, Theresa Maxis and our first sisters carry us through each day.

With grateful hearts,

Team El Centro (Jeannette, Connie, Eileen and Mary Elaine)

Week 4 [May 15-21]:

Hello from El Centro, California! Week 4 is coming to an end. The time seems to be flying. Today Sister Margaret Joseph heads back to Reading, PA. Next week we will be a team of three: Sisters Jeannette Lucey, Constance Touey and Mary Elaine Anderson.

Jeannette and Connie arrived last Saturday and jumped right into the thick of things on Sunday morning. By 10:00 a.m. they were in the van and on the road to San Diego, which is 2 hours from El Centro. Jeannette is the driver and Connie is the co-pilot. Both have become experts at getting people to the airport, obtaining their boarding passes and getting them through TSA. On one of the trips, Connie even managed to get an escort pass to take a woman, who only spoke Punjabi, and her son right to the gate!

Margo and I spent a good portion of the week checking on families in quarantine at the hotel in Holtville. Because of the heat, which makes wearing a face mask and a face shield a little uncomfortable, we would take 4 or 5 rooms at a time, ask people what they needed, return to the air-conditioned storage room, gather the necessary articles and head back to their rooms. Every day there were new families brought by the Customs Border Patrol to the hotel, so we had families to check on daily.

This week there was less activity at the hotel in El Centro … until yesterday afternoon. On days when 10 or fewer people were transported to the hotel because they tested negative for covid, we were able to manage intake and food distribution as well as keep the clothing area and play space in order with relative ease. Yesterday the Border Patrol released 70 people, and about 45 of them passed the covid test and came to the hotel in El Centro. They arrived late in the afternoon, and we had about 3 hours of “chaos” despite the organized set up of Catholic Charities. Toys were strewn from one end of the room to the other end. The boxes of clothing were ransacked as individuals searched for a clean set of clothes for themselves and family members. Packing up and distributing that many meals was a challenge, but Margo and I were finally able to leave at 6:30 p.m. when the last family was being processed. (Usually, the staff leaves by 5:00 p.m.) All in all, it was a good day. Families were welcomed; children were able to play after having been confined for days at the Border Patrol Station; and people had a comfortable place to rest and shower, clean clothes to put on and food to eat. We went home tired and happy!

Let’s continue to pray for one another, the staff from Catholic Charities with whom we partner and our brothers and sisters who risk everything as they make their way across the border!

With grateful hearts,

Team El Centro (Jeannette, Connie, Margo and Mary Elaine)

Week 3 [May 8-14]:

Hello, everyone! It is hard to believe that we are coming to the end of our third week in El Centro. Tomorrow Kathy Benham returns to Philadelphia and on Sunday Margaret Chapman to Monroe. Margo and I await the arrival of Jeannette and Connie on Saturday evening.

This week we set up the art and play space at the shelter in El Centro. It is very simple but a place to which children gravitate when they are arriving and departing with their families.

On Tuesday the four of us met with Nadine, the Director of Immigrant Services for Catholic Charities of San Diego. She is anticipating an overflow of asylum seekers in San Diego. Because they do not have enough lodging there, possibly some families will be transported to El Centro. That means we may be asked to pick up families in San Diego (2 hours away) or meet halfway to bring them back to El Centro. I know that several of you emailed me to say that you can drive a van. Usually you go to the airport in pairs (driver and co-pilot), and together you help the families get their boarding passes and either see them through TSA or show them where they need to go through security. It depends on the airport. There are three airports that they are using: Imperial (20 minutes away); Yuma (60-75 minutes away) and San Diego (2 hours away). The vans that we are using are for 15 passengers.

Margaret Joseph and I just started to learn how to do intake with families who arrive at the shelter in El Centro. Nadine would like you to learn the intake process as soon as you arrive, so that you can help the caseworkers. You can also do that in pairs. It is easier for one person to ask the questions and the other to type in the information.

At the shelter in Holtville, we are beginning to visit families who are in quarantine. The process is safe! We wear masks and face shields, and we stay a good distance from the door. Sister Margaret Chapman has bought a cart with donation money, and it will come in handy as we make our rounds and check on the needs of each individual or family. We have used other donations to buy puzzles, cards and games that families can play while they are in quarantine.

We also bought art materials to make signs for the intake room in Holtville. The state asked our opinion on how we might make the room less sterile and welcoming. I also attached a photo of our welcome signs in three languages.

Every day seems to bring with it one or more grace-filled encounters. Yesterday, the supervisor at the shelter in Holtville asked Kathy and me to visit a man who was separated from his “wife” and who was distraught. The man was so grateful and asked us to pray with him. He knelt as soon as he heard the words of the sign of the cross. He told us a little of his story, and it was evident that he has a deep trust in God’s providential love. It seemed so little what we could do to alleviate his pain. We were able to bring him a change of clothes, and he asked for a rosary. We went back today and prayed a decade of the rosary with him.

With grateful hearts,

Team El Centro (Kathy, Margaret, Margo and Mary Elaine)

Week 2 [May 1- 7]:

HI, everyone! Kathy, Margaret and I are at the end of our second week of IHM presence at the US-Mexico border. We are so grateful for the support of all who have emailed, called and prayed for us!

We are attaching a few photos to give you a sense of our mission here.

  1. Margaret (M) speaks via Google Translate with a Brazilian family that has just arrived at the lodge.
  2. Margaret (M), Kathy (I) and Mary Elaine (S) help to bag and distribute food to families at the lodge.
  3. Mary Elaine (S) brings gifts donated for Día del Nino (Day of the Child) to children in quarantine with their families at the hotel.
  4. Kathy (I) poses with a woman ready to leave for the airport. The day before Kathy helped her find the clothes that she is wearing among the many donations that we have been organizing.
  5. A family leaving for the airport to be united with their family in the US asks Margaret (M) and Kathy (I) if they will have their photo taken with them.

During these first few weeks, a lot of our time has been spent organizing clothes and other donated articles, bagging and distributing food, and driving families to the airport as well as greeting guests (asylum seekers) that arrive at the lodge and saying goodbye to them as they leave to be united with their family in the US.

Next week we hope to set up an art space in the back of the arrival/ departure room at the lodge. We will invite children accompanied by an adult to use play dough, draw a picture, make a collage, or just be creative in whatever way they might like. Perhaps you have some creative ideas and art projects that you might want to do with children of different ages. We can get the supplies that you need here.

We have also been asked to make some welcome signs (English, Spanish and Portuguese) for the intake room at the hotel. We have had less contact with the families at the hotel because they are in quarantine. At the moment, the state does the intake and delivers food to the hotel rooms. In a couple weeks, it seems that will change. The state has asked Catholic Charities to take over the intake process. Food will be made in the hotel kitchen (by professionals) and we will be helping to deliver meals to the families in their rooms. So … the work will be stepping up just as we increase our IHM volunteers in June.

Tomorrow we will be picking up Sister Margaret Joseph (I) at the airport. That will make us a community of four IHMs during the third week of this adventure. We are gradually growing in size and gaining momentum! We wonder if our first sisters in Monroe felt a similar sense of God’s loving presence and energy as their community grew little by little.  Let’s continue to pray for one another!

Kathy, Margaret and Mary Elaine

Week 1 [April 24-30, 2021]:

Hi, everyone! Kathy and I thought that we would update you on what is happening here in El Centro since it has been one week since we arrived.

First, El Centro is remote … over an hour from the Yuma Airport. Most of the drive is through a sandy, barren expanse of land. It is hot! However, the first two days here it was windy and unusually cool. We have been in short sleeves and have carried a lightweight jacket or sweater in the car … just in case it gets chilly in the air conditioning. We really haven’t had to use them.

Kathy and I have been working in two places that Catholic Charities of San Diego is organizing. One is the Travel Lodge in El Centro, a 20-minute walk from our house. We usually drive because of the heat. The other site is the Ramada in Holtville, which is a 20-minute drive from El Centro.

The people that we are seeing are families, not minors that have crossed the border alone. The families usually cross the border and then are picked up, taken to a center and processed. How many days they are there before the Customs Border Patrol (CBP) brings them to the Ramada depends. When they arrive at the Ramada, they are tired, have not showered for days and have only the clothes that they are wearing. They are wearing shoes with no shoelaces because CBP has taken them away. The arriving families are immediately lined up and tested for covid. If someone tests positive or has covid symptoms, he/she and everyone in that family stay at the Ramada in quarantine for 10 days. Those who test negative are taken by van to the Travel Lodge to stay temporarily. They may be there one or two nights until their sponsor makes flight arrangements to fly them to wherever they need to go in the U.S.

Kathy and I are doing whatever needs to be done, and the personnel from Catholic Charities is very grateful. Every day is different. For example, today we were at the Ramada by 8 a.m. There were only four women (all from Brazil) who needed to be taken to the airport, so we were not needed to drive. We spent some time speaking with the women (a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian) and listening to their stories. Afterwards we separated clothes, bags of food and toys that had been donated yesterday to celebrate the Day of the Child (Día del Nino), and we distributed backpacks with all the donated goods to every child at the Ramada. We wore our face masks and face shield and had to have our phones handy (for translation purposes) to speak to the person who came to the door.

On other days Kathy has driven a van to the airport, and I have been her co-pilot. Part of the routine is to help the people traveling to get their boarding passes and give them directions for passing through TSA. Sometimes we help give out food at the Travel Lodge. Other times we have helped to organize the clothing at both sites.

The days are busy, and we are tired at the end of the afternoon. We buy and cook our own food.

We will try to send a weekly email to keep you up to date.

Take care. Let’s pray for one another as we continue ahead with this adventure!