Bitter sweet feelings as we are writing this. Today, we said goodbye to many of the people who worked with us throughout the week. With their help, we were able to attend to the needs of many, many travelers: preparing food, serving food, collecting donations, distributing clothes, and working with the sick.
Today we set out to our service site and were surprised when we did not see too many people in the reception area. When we entered the clothing area, we realized that everyone was just in the inner area. We immediately got to work, preparing breakfast, distributing clothing and whatever else needed to be done. Upon entering the clothing area, we realized that everything was totally mixed up and we needed to shut the station down for a few minutes to reorganize the clothing which was everywhere. In less than 15 minutes we were all set to begin the work of welcoming our guests with a change of clothes and shoes, if needed. The kitchen crew did an amazing job feeding the many hungry guests and had the experience of not being sure if the promised lunch donation was really going to arrive.
What is amazing to see is the number of guests who volunteer their services to help cook, clean and distribute clothing. One of our guests today was cleaning and tidying and when asked where her shoes were, she humbly responded, “No tengo zapatos.” In a manner of minutes, she had shoes as one of our volunteers made sure that she had what she needed especially after she had been so helpful during the day. Such simple actions cause one to be humbled by all that is happening.
After our group left for the day, we returned to our Basilica Hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes and we went out to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was a nice way to end the day. After dinner we came back and had our reflection and sharing session. During this time, we focused on where we saw/met Jesus today. Our responses were often in the faces of the men, women and children that we had encountered during our day. Each one shared how they saw Jesus in the faces of those we served today and in the faces of many of the other volunteers. Even though we are not able to take photos of these faces, I believe they will forever be imprinted in our hearts and minds.
Starting off the day, everyone packed a healthy lunch that we would take downtown with us to the center for a quick lunch. As we arrived at 9, the center swarmed with groups of people of all different ages. Our small group split up to conquer the tasks of that day, whether it be helping out in the kitchen, giving out personal hygiene products, or sorting and giving out clothes to those who needed new articles. A few of our people went in the back, sorted out donations of hygiene products and put them into little family bags. While serving lunch, a little boy named Joseph* kept coming up to us asking how to say basic words in English.
The lunch shifts are very hectic due to the number of people who need food, but there are always travelers there who step up and help us serve the lunch. They are all very noble, serving the others before grabbing their own, even though they had been working already to help with the food. When it was our turn for lunch break, we took a little stroll downtown to eat our picnic lunches. We sat outside and soaked up the sun, finishing with frozen yogurt! Closing out the day, we served soup for dinner, sorted and passed out more clothing, and overall lent a hand to those in need.
Returning to our hotel near the Basilica, Sister Rose gave us a backstory on the Church and Our Lady of San Juan. Shortly after, we all piled into our cars and ate dinner at Luby’s – which was a first for most! Putting an end to our eventful day, we came back to our hotel to reflect on the day and eat some more ice cream! We reflected and shared on the people who impacted our lives and how we are trying to help restore human dignity to these persons!
-Chloe, Hope, Cameron
*Names were changed for safety
It took awhile to get our whole Ursuline Summer Service group here, but as of last night at 9:15, all are present. Four of us had difficulty getting out of St. Louis because of storms, which meant missed connections and almost a 7 hour wait in Houston. We had to relax, read, chat, and settle in until they called our flight to Harlingen. All this meant a very late arrival in San Juan, after midnight, and we were glad to have Sunday as a free day before beginning work at Catholic Charities.
Sr. Pat and Cameron joined us from New York on Sunday morning, so we did grocery shopping in the afternoon, then took a ride to see where we will be working and the famous Rio Grande river. It is striking to see our border lined by barbed wire and metal barriers. There were long lines of cars waiting to come into the U.S. The weather is very hot, well above 100 degrees with a feel of more than 110. We are becoming more and more aware of what the immigrant people we will meet have already endured.
By Sunday evening, our last two volunteers had arrived, and we took time for orientation, planning and prayer. We’ve received many notes from Ursulines around the country, promising us prayer and support. Friends and families are also with us in spirit, we know. Thank you to all! More news will follow throughout the week.
In less than 2 weeks, 8 Ursuline Summer Volunteers will gather for a week of service at the Humanitarian Respite Center sponsored by Catholic Charities in McAllen, Texas. The group includes students and alums of Ursuline schools in St. Louis and New York who know well the meaning of SERVIAM–I will serve.
The byline for our place of service is: Restoring Human Dignity on the Border. We will share in this mission as we help create hope and restore dignity to the most vulnerable among us. We expect to sort donated clothing, clean, sweep, mop, make sandwiches, clean showers and bathrooms, make soup and prepare for the afternoon rush—that rush being when the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement brings guests by bus from their holding center. Recently, 500 to 900 people a day have arrived. We’ll be on call to assist families, children, and regular staff in whatever ways possible.
How will we restore human dignity? Well, stay tuned, because we’ll be blogging right here during the week. I imagine our efforts will include Spanish greetings and smiles of welcome; provision of a change of clothing, toothbrushes, chapstick, food; babysitting and playing games with children; and a loving sendoff to the bus station for the next leg of the journey.
It’s hard to imagine doing all this without also experiencing heartbreak. Our service group will take time each evening to reflect, pray together, and draw strength from words of Jesus and of St. Angela. We’ll be support for one another. We’ve chosen to be together for this week because we share values that are rooted in our Ursuline spirit of service and our deep desire for human dignity for all persons. We’ll keep before us the wisdom of Pope Francis:
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women, and men who leave or are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.