A Report from the Recent Mission Trip to the Humanitarian Respite Center
When people ask how it was at the border this time, the first word that comes to mind is “overwhelming.” The Respite Center where we volunteer is seeing the highest numbers of Central Americans coming through since they opened in 2014. While we were there, 600 to 800 new arrivals were dropped off daily by ICE and Border Patrol, with most of them needing to spend 2 or 3 nights until they can get a spot on a bus to meet up with family members in other parts of the US. The carloads of donations of hygiene kits and clothing that we brought with us were all handed out within a couple of hours.
Last November, the Center moved to a new location, in a former nursing home, to handle the large numbers. Families sleep on mats that line the rooms and hallways. Unfortunately, the new location is in a residential area, and neighbors have complained about the noise and the bus traffic, and now the Center has about one month to find another place.
The image that sticks in my mind this time is of the lines. Lines of tired moms or dads with kids exiting the buses from the detention center and waiting to be checked in at the Respite Center. Lines waiting for Center staff to arrange bus tickets to their next destination. Lines for the mobile shower unit – 4 showers for men, 4 for women. Lines for the 4 outdoor toilets. Lines of people ready to board vans to go to the bus station or airport. And long lines for meals.
Our group helped serve the dinner on 2 nights. Local residents cooked in their homes and dropped off coolers full of hot rice, beans, and beef stew. We helped buy some of the 1400 hot dogs that were served one night, with chili and beans. The line for dinner seemed never-ending, winding down a ramp, a sidewalk, alongside the building and on around the corner so that we could not even see the end. The story of feeding the 5000 seemed to come to life right in front of us. We were determined to see the line finish and were energized when we could finally SEE the end after serving for over two hours. But then the end did not seem to move for another hour, as more people came out from the showers and a few got back in line for more. Families waited patiently up to 3 hours for a plate of rice and beef stew or for a hot dog. And amazingly, the food lasted until the last person was served, with some even left over.
We were at the Center when Border Patrol announced they would be releasing 2500 people over the coming few days because the they were out of room in their detention facility. It seemed like we might see the Center reach a breaking point too. Monday afternoon, they closed the showers and clothing rooms to focus all their efforts on feeding the influx of people. Our task became making sandwiches and assembling snack bags for families to take on the bus.
We came away filled with admiration for the staff and regular volunteers who keep the Center running day in and day out. No challenge seems too great for them (and God) when it comes to doing the work of feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger. They covet your prayers, and we have left some flyers on a table in the narthex with ways we can continue to help from afar. We all felt blessed to be able to do our small part to serve right on the front lines of a real humanitarian crisis, and we thank you for your support.