Aid for Immigrant Families in Texas

$20,720 of $17,000 goal

Raised by 157 people in 6 months
Created July 27, 2018
Dear All,

Many of us have been horrified by the stories of immigrant families being torn apart at the border and images of children wrapped in mylar blankets in detention facilities. While the focus from the media earlier this summer helped bring the government’s policies of separating families to a halt, hundreds of children and parents remain in shelters and detention centers throughout the United States.

Mara recently travelled as a translator and volunteer to McAllen, Texas, a border town that has gained notoriety for hosting one of the government’s largest immigration detention centers and where hundreds of parents have been separated and continue to be kept apart from their children. She spent several days volunteering at the Catholic Charity of the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center, where the authorities drop immigrants they are releasing from detention centers. Each day, more than 100 immigrants, many refugees, filed in and continue to arrive, almost all with children, many with ankle bracelets. They were tired, hungry, in need of a shower, a clean set of clothes, medical supplies and a warm meal.

We are organizing a group to travel down to McAllen on August 12th to volunteer for a week and are hoping to raise money to purchase the bare necessities for these families. Any amount helps. The shoes we have been purchasing costs average about $20. $2000 will help us cover the costs of supplying pairs to 100 individuals a day.

Your donations will be withdrawn by us and used to purchase clothing, shoes and medical supplies on the ground in Texas at Goodwill, Family Dollar, Old Navy and other outlets. (We are currently looking into getting charitable discounts or donations from these stores as well.) All donations will go directly to these purchases as we will be covering our own travel expenses.

While donations directly to the shelter are welcome, we’ve found it is easiest to collect contributions ourselves so that we can respond to the needs of the families that change on a day-to-day basis.  

This shelter has received more than 100,000 immigrants since 2014 when a surge of unaccompanied women and children began coming to the US from the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). Their work is both urgent and indispensable.

Please help.




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Dear All,

Forgive the intrusion. You probably thought you were rid of us, but I recently travelled back down to McAllen with another group of friends and wanted to share my experience with you. The media attention has moved on for the most part (aside from covering the wall), but the story remains the same on the border.

This past Friday I travelled back down to the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Relief Center. On Saturday, the shelter received roughly 180 people, the vast majority from Honduras. Every child who came in had some sort of cold, but, as usual, they all somehow managed to be in good spirits. I don't remember the adults that we saw this past summer looking quite as tired as they did this past weekend. They are nothing if not resilient though, and despite the hunger, fatigue and emotional stress, all of them were so appreciative of our help.

The best news from this weekend is that the shelter has finally managed to move in a new, much larger space formerly occupied by a health and rehabilitation facility. The charity has expanded from three overcrowded rooms to about 25, including a large kitchen, an outdoor area and a field for the children to play soccer. Instead of one large closet, there are now individual rooms of supplies for babies, children, adult men, adult women, and children. The migrants no longer need to eat and sleep in the same area, and this upgrade has come just in time as the size of the groups the shelter is receiving each day has grown since last August.

During our quick trip, our group purchased approximately 150 pairs of shoes. Needless to say, with 180 to 200 refugees coming in each day, the shoes didn’t last long. There is a constant need for shoes. The shelter has an Amazon wish list (see link at bottom) but it is rarely updated given all of the other pressing needs and a shortage of staff. Note that I don’t believe you can get a tax deduction by purchasing from the Amazon wish list but I’m waiting for clarification from the shelter. I am planning to create a separate wish list this month that I will update on a weekly as I’m in touch with one of the shelter employees. As always, there is the option to donate directly to the shelter (link also at bottom) in case you are in a position to donate and that is more appealing. (Thank you in advance!)

The last, and perhaps most pressing need, relates to the bus trips each migrant takes from the shelter to their family. I met two women this weekend who were in distress because they did not have sufficient money to make it to their families spread across the US. I watched lots of tears being shed by families who have been traveling for weeks, often on foot, who managed to pass their initial test to qualify for asylum, were released from detention but then found themselves without the funds to reach their final destination. Their plight is usually compounded by the fact that the migrants have a court date they absolutely cannot miss, and depending on their end destination, these trips by bus can take days.

The good news is the shelter has finally agreed to create a specific account to receive donations to assist refugees who are lacking these funds. One of the directors of the shelter has agreed to reach out to me directly if a family is stuck at the shelter for days and unable to make it to their end destination. In many instances, a refugee is short only a couple hundred dollars. One migrant was short $300 of her $900 trip for her and her three young childrens’ long bus trip to New York. I included a picture of them below. (I'll be seeing them in New York this weekend so reach out to me if there is interest in helping sponsor some of their groceries and/or purchases of winter clothing.)

If you are interested in helping sponsor other families as the need arises, please enter your email in this google doc: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fPlAWCI4TtWw29SkuN3wI9HXXdSKX-9OdkULBH9Ru3k/edit?usp=sharing

Feel free to share this doc far and wide. My goal is to create a list of emails who I will reach out as the shelter contacts me with requests.

Thank you for taking the time to read this rather lengthy update. I’ll be traveling back down to McAllen again in March or April. If anyone has any interest in joining, please reach out to me by email. It’s an incredibly rewarding (and unforgettable) experience.


Shelter website: https://www.catholiccharitiesrgv.org/Home.aspx

Shelter Amazon wish list: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/ls/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_gm__wl?ie=UTF8&lid=1DA3V6OY5SLFV&ref_=cm_sw_em_r_mt_gm__wl&ty=wishlist
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Dear All,

We wanted to send out a final roundup from the trip down to McAllen and say thank you so much again to everyone who contributed and helped spread the word about our fundraiser. Our trip was so much more fruitful thanks to your generous contributions.

The following is an estimate of what we were able to purchase and provide to the refugees with your donations:

Pairs of Shoes: 213
Sweaters/Jackets: 161
Tops: 132
Bottoms: 174
Socks (packs of 3-5 pairs): 53
Undergarments (some in packs of 3-5): 96
Backpacks: 150

Additionally, we spent $1093 on medical supplies (including gauze, speculums, cough medicine, pain relievers and hospital gowns) and $240 on storage supplies to help organize their warehouse. The remaining $2216 we have donated directly to the charity. That money was earmarked to pay for migrants bus tickets to reunite with their families. Some individuals get stuck at the shelter for days on end, unable for one reason or another to get money wired to them in order to reach their families.

We are in contact with the shelter regarding implementing some strategic recommendations we put together involving organization and procedures for the migrants, volunteers and shelter employees. Right now, the shelter is slightly chaotic (to put it mildly), and the few full time employees are overwhelmed.

The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily, did two episodes on this issue this past week, titled “Divided”. Both are worth listening to, but the second episode, “The Chaos of Reunification” discusses the condition migrants are in when they are released. The journalist describes a woman, with nothing but the clothes on her back, shoes without laces, the water ICE had given her and her ankle monitor. She is surrounded by lawyers, social workers, journalists and volunteers all picking up the slack, trying to help families figure out the next step in their long journeys. This is where your donations are going--to provide the basics of what someone would need after walking for weeks or months on end in the summer heat, being detained and then left at a bus stop.

If you have interest in contributing directly to the shelter, their website address is listed at the bottom. One thing to note is that it is important to specify on your donation that you would like to direct the funds to the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center. (Their tax ID number, which is not listed on the website, is 53-0196620.) If you would prefer to send items down directly instead of funds, they are desperately in need of shoes and backpacks. We are happy to discuss this in further depth with anyone who is interested in doing a clothing drive.

We are hoping to organize another trip down to McAllen during a long weekend in October or November and will send another update then.

Thank you all so much again. Please be in touch if you wish to hear more.

Mara, Annie, Natalia, Charlotte and Lilly

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Dear all,

Apologies for the delayed update. The days have been long but the work has been gratifying. Five of us came down to McAllen to volunteer and I think it’s safe to say that we all feel a deep connection to the place, and will be back in the near future.

Our days were long. 14 + hours and countless interactions that each merit their own page. Each afternoon, roughly 160 people file through the doors of the humanitarian respite center. Approximately half are young children and most come in with nothing but the clothes on their back. They are dropped at the bus station by the authorities where an employee from the charity walks them to the shelter.

As they arrive, all the volunteers gather to clap for them and welcome them. All of the migrants have come from Central America - Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and a few coming as far as Cuba and Brazil. We have seen numerous women with tiny babies, many of whom are pregnant and many single men with children. The majority of these individuals are those that have passed the initial credible fear test required in order to be granted asylum. Nearly everyone comes in with an ankle bracelet.

First, we feed the children soup. The parents sit waiting to work with a shelter employee to call their relatives and arrange for a bus ticket. People headed all over - Tennessee, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Indiana and so on. We then provide them food, a change of clean clothes, new shoes and they are able to shower. They are then escorted to the station to catch their bus—many making three or four stops before ultimately reaching their destinations. Others spend the night on mats laid out on the floor.

Your donations have made such a difference. We have spent approximately $16,000 on shoes, clothing, backpacks, and medical supplies. We are saving the $2,500 left over to finance bus tickets for those migrants who have been unable to reach their families to send them funds for their travel. We are working on putting together a full tally of our expenses today but the pictures below should provide some illustration of how far your contributions have gone. We will send more in the coming days.

We are continuously inspired by the energy and attitude of the migrants that arrive at the center. Each and every one was grateful for any help we provided, no matter the chaos in the shelter or the language barriers. Many Guatemalans were K’iche’ or from another indigenous group and thus did not speak or understand Spanish. Some families have been walking North for weeks, and some for months. Migrants come in with all types of illnesses, many with colds from time in what they described as the “hieleras” (“ice boxes”) as they describe the detention centers that are kept at very low temperatures.

The only time we experienced an individual losing their calm was when a man thought he had lost his son. He frantically ran through the center and sobbed, ultimately finding that his son was just in the outside bathroom, taking a long shower. The trauma and fear is real, and a reminder of just how much they have to lose.

One of the more remarkable things we noticed were migrants themselves jumping in to help us. One Cuban woman who had flown to Ecuador then to Mexico to make her third attempt at crossing, was so involved in the process of dressing migrants many of us confused her for a volunteer.

In short, the shelter is overwhelmed. They are in need of a new facility, which they are raising money for now. They need more volunteers—particularly those with a medical background and anyone with some familiarity of immigration law. And fluent Spanish speakers!

Today we are aiming to meet with an employee of the charity to present them with a series of strategic recommendations we have to help organize the center—from one pagers for volunteers to punch cards for migrants to ensure they have gone through all the appropriate steps upon arrival at the shelter. Any recommendations they think are viable, we will provide funding to implement these processes.

Thank you again to everyone who gave. We will sending another update in the coming days that will address what the shelter’s pressing needs are going forward.

In the meantime, if anyone would like more information on the situation on the ground, we highly suggest watching this Frontline piece that aired a few weeks ago. The humanitarian respite center appears in the first few minutes: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/separated-children-at-the-border/

Mara, Natalia, Charlotte, Annie and Lilly
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Dear all,

Thanks to you, we have made our goal of raising $17,000! We are so grateful for your donations and look forward to putting this money to good use. We will be sending updates from McAllen in the coming days and providing a summary of our expenditures at end of the trip.

Thank you again to all who donated and shared this campaign!

Mara, Annie, Natalia, Charlotte and Lilly

P.S. While we have reached our initial fundraising goal, we will continue to collect contribution should others want to participate.
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$20,720 of $17,000 goal

Raised by 157 people in 6 months
Created July 27, 2018
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