McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Chrimson Crabtree and Nicole Grogan were volunteering elbow to elbow in a tight space with their high school children on Tuesday, organizing clothes that have been donated for asylum-seekers at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen.
Neither knew each other before this week but found themselves negotiating how to stack bags of women’s and men’s clothing as part of a group of volunteers from the nonprofit Global Volunteers who were brought together on the South Texas border.
And they said the experience was transformative.
“It’s really amazing to see what a generous community this area is. Everybody has been so giving and supportive of one another and everyone coming into the country and that’s been very wonderful to see,” said Grogan, who came from Seattle with her daughter, Ella.
“We just wanted to come and embrace and welcome people to their new country and we felt this was such a beautiful place to be,” said Crabtree, a farmer from upstate New York who came for the week to help with her 18-year-old son, Phin Grant. “This is of our hearts to be here and to be volunteering.”
Both families spent their summer vacations at the Humanitarian Respite Center hauling clothes, serving meals and playing with migrant children.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities RGV, which runs the facility, says volunteers are vital to their operations.
“Volunteers, for me, truly are an important part of who we are at this Respite Center because it defines the fact that the United States cares. It’s people in the United States that step up and say, ‘I want to go there to help; I want to make a difference in the lives of children.’ Students from universities who instead of going to a beach and enjoying their vacation time, they choose rather to come here. They choose to be able to spend time with children and families and play and dedicate themselves to be part of somebody who has been part of such a difficult time in their journey and have finally arrived at a place in the United States where they are welcomed and treated with respect and dignity and they become part of that,” Pimentel told Border Report.
This year, 270 people and 139 groups of volunteers have come to help at the Humanitarian Respite Center, said Clarissa De Leon, the facility’s volunteer coordinator.
They come from every state and other countries to help, and summer and holidays are popular times for volunteering.
“We do see a big increase in volunteers during the summer,” De Leon told Border Report. “It’s a very lovely experience getting to meet all these amazing volunteers that come from all over.”
Their help is much needed, Pimentel said.
About 500 migrants per day are being released to the Respite Center from the Department of Homeland Security after crossing the border from Mexico, she said.
At the center, they receive clothes and hygiene items, as well as medicines and baby formula and they are able to rest and relax while volunteers take care of their children and give parents a much-needed respite, she said.
But they don’t just give, they get back a lot from the experience, also.
“(Volunteers) always are very eager to learn more about the recent journeys of the families we have here and are very willing to come and help,” De Leon said.
She says groups as large as 30 to 40 will sometimes come to volunteer from universities, high schools and nonprofit organizations. And single families also come to help. Most spend two to three days, but some come for a week or two.
“They play with the children, color with them, and that will clear their minds and the parents get to relax a bit and the children get to play,” De Leon said.
A migrant mom, Consuela, told Border Report it took her a month to get to South Texas from Guatemala with her 10-month-old baby. She didn’t want to give her last name, but said she was grateful for all the people helping them at the facility on Tuesday.
As her daughter nestled on her abdomen to nurse, Consuela asked a staffer if a display of Catholic rosaries were for sale or free. She was told they were free and after her baby fed she went and picked out a purple rosary and hung it around her neck.
“I want to always remember the help they gave us, and to thank God and the Virgin for this place,” she said in Spanish.
Ella Grogan says she had heard about the dangerous treks migrants make to get to the U.S. border, but she didn’t truly understand until she came to the center to volunteer.
“The main reason why I wanted to come out here was I was learning about this in school and so I wanted to help and see what was happening first-hand,” said Ella, 17, who is a senior and a high school swimmer.
After rearranging bags of clothes, she said they were going to serve lunch and help families.
“We wanted to be able to see first-hand what’s happening on the border and to be able to make a difference and contribute,” her mom added.
When asked if she wants to return next year, Ella said: “I’ll definitely tell my friends and I want to come back.”
Pimentel says there is a 95-year-old physician from the Northeast who still comes every year to volunteer.
“He would do whatever was needed whether emptying the dumpsters or cleaning the alley and year after year Dennis always was here. He was so happy to come down and be a part of what we’re doing here,” she said.
When the families return to work and school and the summer is over, Pimentel says the Winter Texans return to the Rio Grande Valley and volunteer at the Respite Center.
“There are so many examples of wonderful people who have come to volunteer,” she said “Many retirees and Winter Texans they come here and work and I have to send them home to rest because they’ve been here all day, and they say ‘No Sister. Let me help. This mother still needs milk. This child still needs clothing.’ Those things are so important. It touches my life. That is what this is about.”
Information on volunteering at the Humanitarian Respite Center can be found at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley website. Or call 956/800-4427 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.