We received this message from Sister Marcelline Koch regarding her experience volunteering at Annunciation House a Catholic Charities-sponsored ministry serving families who arrive in El Paso, Texas, seeking asylum. Sister Marcelline, Sister Anita Cleary, and two of their friends, Kathryn Raistrick and Julie Wullner, volunteered at Annunciation House Nov. 13-19, 2018. She wrote on Sunday, Nov. 18.
El Paso, Texas. Sister Anita Cleary and I, along with two colleagues, Kathryn Raistrick and Julie Wullner, have been working in El Paso since last Tuesday and have our last day tomorrow. Throughout the week we’ve become familiar with the flow: families arrive in the afternoons when released from the detention center to the care of Annunciation House , are welcomed and briefly oriented (noting that we are church group and not government), interviewed, given clean clothes, a room and a meal. The interview provides the family with information about the family or sponsor who will purchase their bus or plane tickets for the asylee to travel.
Because of a decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release all asylum seekers Annunciation House recently rented rooms in two side-by-side motels to provide sufficient housing for all. A tent on the parking lot provides space for the meals—breakfast for one group (Julie coordinates this) and lunch and supper for all. Thankfully there are heaters, as the mornings start out in the 20’s and 30’s. One room serves as an office, another as clothing and hygiene storage, and a third for food.
Volunteers bring dinner and supper meals; some stay to serve and some don’t. However, people are incredibly generous. Clothes arrive almost every day and need to be sorted to be ready for families arriving from detention. And then sorted again the next day. My first two days were spent sorting and sizing clothes. When Kathryn and I first tried to step into the room, we couldn't! The bed, chairs, and floor were covered with donated clothing.
As well as speaking more Spanish than I do, Sister Anita also has nursing training, so sick children and a pregnant mom have needed her attention.
We four work the 7-2 shift. Arriving, we check in with the overnight person, prepare for breakfast, look at the board to see what calls need to be made, look at another board to plan for departures. Bus? Plane? Can the shuttle take all 15 to the Greyhound station? Who can make an airport run? I’ve done airport runs the last two days as well as a few bus station trips. Airports are the most challenging.
On Saturday, after the volunteer site coordinators at each motel left to go back home, we split up to provide some coverage at both places. I was delighted when two volunteers arrived from Colorado the night before. One was a fluent-enough Spanish speaker who could cover the phones as we tried to contact the families or sponsors who were buying bus or plane tickets for our guests. That day we had 19 persons to get to the airport and 14 to the bus. I was ready to leave for the airport this morning and realized I didn’t have the correct airlines confirmation number. It took multiple phone calls to secure the correct confirmation information which was relayed to us as we headed to the airport anyway. I’ve learned to get the cell phone number of key volunteers to keep in touch as we work.
Some days we have 30 new folks, other days 70 or 80. I’m not sure how many are here on any given day. Some need to stay only a day, others stay 2, 3, 4, 5 days. Friday, I had to tell a woman that she wasn’t leaving that day; rather her departure would be Sunday. Her face fell, and tears came. I could only put my arm around her. When she later came to the office, I learned more of her concern. She would arrive at her destination on the 20th and needed to report to immigration on the 21st. She was petrified on not being able to keep that appointment.
People’s appreciation for all that is given them is palpable. “Rico,” said a smiling pre-teen boy as I re-filled his glass with cold water. So grateful for that cup of water.
How to Help
Three organizations doing good work.
Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, where our sisters volunteers earlier in November, is coordinating first aid, food, clothing, and temporary shelter for families there. You can donate to them at this link.