Sister Cory recalls her time in El Paso with immigrant families
Soccer offered a welcome break from the bleak life of the immigrant children. Fortunately, our shelter located at the diocesan pastoral center was blessed with enough space to provide a makeshift soccer field. Teams were chosen and a game was about to start, when a priest volunteer walked by. He brought the boys together and guaranteed soft drinks to the winning team. After the game, again the priest gathered the boys and asked, “Who won?” To his dismay, they shouted, “We ALL did!” This funny yet touching story reveals the concern that immigrants have for each other.
Indeed, the story hints at another reality: all are winners who enter the El Paso shelters (under the umbrella of Annunciation House). They have made it this far in their long and strenuous journeys, and they are assured of either a bus or plane ticket provided by a family member or a friend, and a welcome to that person’s home. Staff and volunteers at the shelter welcome individuals and families and treat them respectfully. Travelers stay at the shelter one or two overnights as they wait for their tickets to become available.
After disembarking from the bus that carried them from a detention center to the shelter, the travelers felt a sense of security in hearing the details and advantages that their short stay at the shelter would provide. In small groups each person was invited to select a complete set of clothing, items for showering, diapers for babies, and other necessities from a room full of donations. A hot shower awaited these winners. It is amazing what a difference clean clothes, often quite stylish, and a hot shower—things we take for granted—can make to transform a person.
All won again, as all received a hot buffet dinner. I was impressed with their patience, care for others in the group, and their gratitude. We prayed before each meal, prayers that were heartfelt. Heads were bowed, those of little children often touching the table. I wondered what those who had had very little to eat for days were thinking as they received a full plate. They saw that there was enough for all; that’s winning!
In one large, crowded room, each person had a cot and cover. For those weary travelers, this probably felt luxurious.
Fortunately, our particular shelter had outdoor space where the children could play; soccer was a favorite. It was here that the “We ALL won” story occurred.
In the morning as transportation details were finalized, volunteers prepared lunches for those leaving. They received three peanut butter sandwiches a day per person, water, fruit, and whatever else that was available to alleviate hunger while they were en route. Most traveled by bus and often to the East Coast! Food bags were heavy, and we had to trust that they had enough food for the tedious ride. Volunteer drivers took families to either a bus station or the airport. Most often they accompanied the travelers inside the terminal to offer security in a new and possibly intimidating situation.
The situation at the shelters is far from perfect, but it does offer a welcome. The volunteers at the site and the groups who provide cooked and plentiful meals are admirable. And day after day, staff, volunteers, and meal preparers repeat the process with new immigrants. My time there in December was a blessing. Memories and reflections such as these are a gift to those serving and those being served. At the El Paso shelters, “We ALL win!”
Sister Cory Canon, SC