At the Border

Written on: October 6, 2021

October 17, 2021

Dear Partners in Mission,
Last week’s letter ended with a story about shoes. This one will begin with one. And strangely enough it started in the laundry, as did the other.

This time my sister, Mary was the one ready to move mountains to get our new laundry helper and guest a pair of shoes before she would move on! Once again the roperia (the clothes shop) had no shoes that fit her. Mary’s solution, “Let’s find a shoe store after work and buy Maria (not her real name) a pair of shoes. That was our intent until we got caught in a traffic jam and decided to shop for shoes the next day.

If you are guessing that a donation of shoes came in the very next day, you’re right and among them was the perfect pair, size and style!

Amazing! There must be a nugget of wisdom to be mined here. Speaking of shoes reminds me of the walking we do. The building is the size of three foot fields which equates to walking approximately 6 miles a day!

This past week there has been much activity; new guests coming in just about every day, several times a day. They have been mostly single men and women. Some must stay awhile, while others are fortunate enough to move on to their sponsor’s. Today I did three trips to the airport, taking a total of nine people with destinations to Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Florida, Utah and Indiana. That is such a happy ride! Each traveler receives a “travel bag”, as described in my first letter. Today there was a family with a toddler among the travelers. We were able to put a brand new plush toy in her bag to keep her company on the long journey.

Most of what we do is plain hard labor, but the guests are so happy and enthusiastic about helping us it turns work into a labor of love. Thanks so much for supporting this labor of love with your prayers as well as financially. It has been pure blessing! You sent us off with about $1,200. I will make a general accounting how it was used when I get back.

This will be my last letter since Mary and I will both be leaving Saturday, Oct. 23, she to Buffalo and I to Philadelphia. I will share the rest of this week’s happenings in person.

Until then with love from El Paso,
Sister Diane

October 9, 2021

Dear Partners in Mission,
Welcome back to El Paso after a very busy second week! It’s too difficult to get an exact count of how many guests came to us this week. It would take time that we don’t have to get that information. At any rate there were HUNDREDS! Many of them just passing through not needing overnight or longer accommodations because their sponsors were “sponsor” Still, they receive a set of clean clothing, a shower and a meal, if they have time, and a travel bag which contains food, water, a snack and a toy if there is a child. If I had to estimate an average daily count, I would say around 75 over-nighters with the same number for meals. This week we had mostly single men with just a few families.

Sister Bridget and I had a variety of daily assignments – laundry, setting up and serving breakfast and lunch with cleanup after wards, emptying trash (of which there is lots), making sure the outdoor arrival/COVID testing tent is in order with sandwiches, snacks and water for the arriving guests and fire watch/maintenance/security check. The fire watch duty requires checking all fire extinguishers, looking for any needed repairs and securing all exit doors. To appreciate what this means, you must know that the building is the size of three football fields! We walk between 5 and 6 miles a day.

The last time I was in El Paso the big need was shoe laces; this time it’s shoes! People arrive with only flip flops and until yesterday we only had flip flops and a few pairs of canvas shoes in the roperia (clothes shop).

Yesterday was Sister Bridget’s last day, and for days she had been so concerned about a mother with two young children who has been a great help to us in the laundry. We learned that their situation was very tenuous since their sponsor was no longer able to receive them. Sister Bridget wanted to immediately fix that, but of course couldn’t. When we got to work yesterday morning we learned that their situation was changed; they will be able to move on to a safe and welcoming destination thanks to the work of Annunciation House. Now there was just one other thing Bridget wanted and that was a pair of shoes for the children. About 1:30 yesterday (Friday), we were rerouted from our usual duty to help off load a truck load of donations. Among the thousands of donated items were SHOES, mostly new, all sizes and styles. You don’t have to be told that Bridget and the two children were ecstatic. They went through all the boxes until they found just the right sizes! Aching muscles, sore feet and weary bones all disappear or at least recede to unimportant when something like this happens. A perfect ending to Bridget’s weeks of service at Casa del Refugio! She has made a difference.

With love from El Paso,
Sister Diane

P.S. My sister Mary is arriving Oct. 9 and staying for the next two weeks.

October 1, 2021

Dear Partners in Mission,

Here I am back in El Paso again, this time with Sister Bridget until Oct. 9 then with my sister, Mary Bardol until Oct. 23.

Sister Bridget and I started with orientation Sept. 26 which ran from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. but because they received nearly 500 guests the preceding Friday there was a lot of work to do so we stayed until 7 p.m. This week we have the 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. shift with today off.

We are assigned to Casa del Refugio, CDR for short, one of the four houses run by Annunciation House. It was formerly a warehouse that Annunciation House Director, Ruben Garcia purchased two years ago. It’s HUGE! It can sleep 500 persons in the large dormitory with two more dorms for overflow guests. Guests sleep on Red Cross issued cots. Of course there are offices and storage rooms, there are outdoor port-a-potties and shower, a kitchen, of sorts (no stove or sink) and dining areas, staff bed rooms, the Roperia where guests may pick out one complete change of clothing, the Dispensa where they get their bedroll, toiletries and baby needs. Then there is the laundry, where Sister Bridget and I have spent a lot of time!

Guests are brought to us by Border Patrol having been vetted at the border. Upon arrival they are taken to a very large outdoor tent and tested for COVID. While they wait, everyone is given a sandwich, snack and water. Those who have a negative test result, (which are most) are brought inside for intake, where the paper work needed to help them on the next leg of their journey happens. Anyone receiving a positive test result is taken to a hotel to be quarantined for 14 days and then return to CDR.

After intake they are escorted to the dispensa and then are free to settle in until meal time. All meals are prepared by the Salvation Army in their large mobile kitchen that they park in the back lot. We do the serving and clean up. I don’t know what we would do without the Salvation Army!

What I just described is just the setting; now for the rewarding and heart rending part! Nearly all the guests that arrive are families with children – infants, toddlers, and older. They arrive after months or even years of traveling. They are from South and Central America, from Haiti via South or Central America, from Africa and elsewhere!

It is so obvious that they come seeking life!

No one makes such a journey for anything less. They come worn out, tired and afraid; many with colds or worse. Last night a baby had to be taken to the hospital. If we truly believe that God is everywhere, then we must believe that God is present here, tired, worn out and afraid! And that’s why there is courage and hope.

If you happen to be lucky enough to be around when they leave CDR, you will be thanked profusely in words, tears and big hugs. At that point who can worry about social distancing! More on my next day off.

With love from El Paso,
Sister Diane and Sister Bridget

One thought on “At the Border

  1. Barbara Knorr says:

    God bless you with strength, patience, and love. You are a blessing to the needy. Thank you for your inspiring work.

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