CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation
Last month I reported on the abundance of mercy that came from the generosity of volunteers seeking to help children and families separated on the border. We sent our own team from San Jose to help Sister Norma at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas. Team members included Advocacy and Community Engagement Director, Father Jon Pedigo; Immigrant and Refugee Immigration Services Director, Francis Bencik; Emergency Programs and Housing Services Director, Lindsey Caldwell; and two of our ESL instructors, Blanca Manriquez and Elizabeth Eastman. Catholic Charities runs a Humanitarian Respite Center that welcomes the reunited children and families released from immigration custody, gives them comfort and respite, along with food, water, a hot shower, new clothing, and information while they prepare for the next leg of their journey for an asylum hearing in an immigration court often many days and bus ride away. Between 150 and 200 men, women, children and infants pass through the reception center each day, mostly indigenous Central Americans, many who don’t even speak Spanish. Our staff worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, welcoming and comforting families, accompanying guests to the bus station, organizing and distributing donations, and organizing other volunteers.
Our staff reported that the families arrive from detention severely traumatized, depressed and confused. But after fleeing violence at home, traveling thousands of miles, then enduring separation, incarceration, and ankle bracelets, they finally can take a breath. One staff shared with me that she witnessed the transformation in the evenings. After the families have showered, changed clothes, and eaten, just before going to sleep in the auditorium of the basilica, Lindsey would ask if they would like her to pray with them. They said, “Yes, please pray for us.” And as they prayed, a gentle peace would come upon the group.
Many arrive sick from sleeping on the concrete floors of the detention centers, with only ragged clothes on their backs, worn and stained by their long trek. Catholic Charities in McAllen provides new clothes so they have something decent to wear for the next stage and as they prepare to appear in court to plead their case. But one item of clothing more than any other is in short supply – blue jeans.
Jeans for the Journey is a simple request for monetary donations to provide jeans for the men, boys, women, and girls to be clothed in dignity. While we may not be able to stop the violence that families are fleeing from, at least we can ensure they are clothed in dignity as they seek safety in America.
To make a donation please visit, www.catholiccharitiesscc.org/donate and designate Jeans for the Journey.
Thank you to Bishop Patrick J. McGrath and Silicon Valley Community Foundation for believing in our work and making it financially possible to send our team to help the children and families at the border.