Feeling a desire to offer humanitarian assistance to thousands of men, women and children asylum seekers in Mexico awaiting entrance at the Texas border, Sussex County residents Jessica Clark and Debi Goebel found the work of St. Peter and St. Paul Episcopal Church in Mission, Texas.
Goebel said, “I think so many of us feel helpless when we see the suffering these asylum seekers must endure, particularly the children. Supporting the work being done by St. Peter and St. Paul will have a direct impact on families who have been forced to flee desperate poverty and unending violence in their native homes.”
For about two years, parishioners have been ministering to asylum seekers detained at the McAllen Border Patrol Detention Center, the largest in the United States. The church is five miles north of the center on the Rio Grande River and almost 2,000 miles from Delaware, but Clark and Goebel decided their help was needed.
Church members deliver food prepared by congregants and other materials including backpacks with school supplies, toiletries, toys, a bit of candy, and as funds permit, sleeping bags to the detainees. Parishioners also delivered supplies to the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, which assists asylum seekers in relocating to families in the United States while they await a court date. The center temporarily fed and sheltered 600 to 1,000 asylum seekers a day.
With the United States’ Remain in Mexico policy, it is estimated that over 50,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico, a country deemed unsafe for Americans. Asylum seekers must wait for months, possibly years, in these dangerous Mexican border towns fending for themselves without healthcare, work opportunities or school for their children. When that policy was applied in August 2019, the McAllen Respite Center became practically empty, welcoming only about 10 asylum seekers a day.
The Texas church now coordinates with a local relief organization, Mateo 25:35, to deliver food and supplies to approximately 2,000 waiting in a tent city and others sleeping on the ground under the Brownsville Bridge leading from Texas to Matamoras, Mexico. The group’s name comes form a passage in the Book of Matthew, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”
Asylum seekers don’t dare leave the relative safety of the encampment although the conditions are squalid and dangerous. They wash and bathe in the Rio Grande River. Many expect to be kidnapped and many have been kidnapped more than once.
Every week, a few parishioners fix 600 to 700 taco meals or tortillas on Saturday. The average cost is $150 a week to buy ingredients. The church also spends about $300 a week to pay for tents, blankets, and backpacks filled with supplies. A team of parishioners meets on Monday night to roll and wrap the mixtures while others pack backpacks. The food and supplies are loaded into garden carts and church volunteers walk across the Brownsville Bridge. Everything is distributed in the Matamoras, Mexico tent city and to those sleeping under the bridge.
Kathy Whittier, St. Peter and St. Paul Episcopal Church project coordinator, said, “Trying to provide necessities as well as a bit of comfort and joy, the church recently purchased over 1,200 backpacks at $5 each. In each backpack are a wallet or purse, toiletries, a notebook, a pencil and a pen, a coloring book and crayons, a picture book, a stuffed animal, hair ties, and a bit of candy. Many of these supplies are donated. All the rest are bought with donations from Episcopal churches or folks all over the country. I and my friends shop at thrift stores, discount stores, and flea markets.”
“Our hope, after the holiday rush is over, is that many communities and organizations will donate to this worthy humanitarian project or assist us in outreach activities,” said Clark. “We will accept monetary donations and forward them to the Texas church, or checks can be sent directly to St. Peter and St. Paul Episcopal Church, 2310 N. Stewart Road, Mission, TX 78574, Attn: Mrs. Kathy Whittier. In the memo line, please add Asylum Seekers Project.”
To volunteer for this ministry, contact Jessica Clark at 302-430-2898 or firstname.lastname@example.org.