Thursday, January 24, 2019

Final few days in McAllen

Yesterday, Tuesday, was a challenge. Yes, every day is a new day but Tuesday had some features that combined to create a long, difficult, frustrating, and chaotic day.

It started with 3-4 new volunteers, and since I am there early and have some experience, I am asked to provide an orientation...which is fine until I am halfway through and another 3-4 show up needing an orientation. Post orientation, I start assigning folks to rooms: women's clothes, kids' clothes, kitchen, sorting, and so on. And the morning is organized and promising but....

our two industrial washing machines quit working. Not my responsibility but definitely an issue. Fortunately many of the towels had been washed the night before. Unfortunately, as of 6 pm yesterday, the machines had not been fixed. Yikes. Hundreds of clean and folded towels needed by 3 this afternoon....

My volunteer buddy in men's clothes was whispering to me....laryngitis. So many of us are moms that we diagnose and treat each other--do you need a cough drop? are you drinking enough water? No? Ok I'm going to bring you some!

We approach noon, we've taken groups of refugees to the bus station, it has quieted down, and all seems under control so I go off for lunch and a break, returning at 1:30 because we have been told to expect 380 new arrivals. When I get back to the center, there are another 6-8 volunteers, but these have had some experience so it's just a matter of getting all the rooms for clothing staffed and the kitchen/serving area staffed. Done.

And here they come, in quick succession...two large busses, over 200 people, we get them lined up, sorted, and into the registration area. After registration, they head for the clothing rooms, two of which are in the same corridor we use for new arrivals. BAM another bus....and we have to tell everyone in that corridor to move away....we bring in the newbies, sort, send to registration and just as that is done, BAM yet another bus. It was chaos.

And it turned out that while the afternoon volunteers (and some of the morning, who stayed) now knew what to do, they didn't know Spanish. All of the staff were beyond busy. Since I'd assigned everyone, everyone knew who I was. So for well over an hour I was on call for anything requiring Spanish, which turned out to be quite a lot. Rather gratifying, my Spanish has certainly become more fluent, but we really needed more Spanish speakers. And though we had volunteers, there were so many that we were both short staffed and short volunteered. Stretched pretty thin, trying to help people who were exhausted, traumatized, hungry, dirty, and had no idea what the future holds for them.

We only had two lost kids while I was there yesterday (I leave late in the afternoon because I can't drive at night). One was a toddler who, every time we asked his name, replied NO. Which was funny but unhelpful. Fortunately his mom saw him and collected him. She'd thought he was with his dad. The other was a 2 year old running at top speed through the parking lot. One of the volunteers caught up and found his dad but I went over and scolded his dad anyway, Dangerous place to much as they enjoy the freedom, they still need parental supervision.

Tues we had a couple of volunteers from Minnesota--finally someone who laughed at my Baja Minnesota (for Iowa, since no one seems to have heard of it) joke. Also on Tues I had a woman in the jacket/coat/sweater room (I hope I am not repeating myself!)...I asked where she was headed and she replied north Nebraska. I always confirm--Nebraska?  she replied NORTH Nebraska, which made me chuckle, since EVERYWHERE in Nebraska is cold right now. And a young woman worrying about her shoes for Maryland, she wanted newer ones (our shoes are all in pretty bad shape). I had to tell her not to worry, when she gets to MD she'll be wearing boots.

These poor souls will have major weather and food shock before they ever get to culture shock.

About time to head in for my last day for this trip. Tomorrow I head home to over 6 inches of snow and wind chills well below zero. But I am sure I will be back. Boots on the ground, that's my contribution.

And people who weren't served yesterday were in need this well as those going to colder climates, who needed sweaters and coats, of which we have not much of a selection. I told them about wearing layers and gave them a sweater and a light coat, if I could. It was a challenging morning since I was the only one there for a while--arrived before 8--and had to ask each person when they were leaving. If this morning, they got attention first. Meantime, others came for help.

And.....just before they go out to the bus or buseta, they get stocking caps, gloves, and a blanket for the bus. Well, those going to Miami only got the blanket because after all, it is not cold there(I don't think they believed me). They also get their bag of sandwiches, water, and snacks just before the bus so it gets a bit chaotic. It was close to 10 before other volunteers arrived and noonish before things calmed down.

And then they sent the busses early....sigh.

They wanted and needed hair ties and chapsticks, both of which we ran out of late yesterday. We had to get more blankets from our off site storage facility this morning. And as usual there are no belts, few decent shoes (no boots), not enough small sizes for men and women in pants and tops.

While we usually make a fridge full of sandwiches to go, we had to make more before noon....and that means early afternoon someone had to go to the store for more bread, cheese, and ham.

There were more people flying the past few days, perhaps 5 or so family units. We have to explain that they can't take water through security, and of course we can't go through security with them, Fortunately lots of people in McAllen speak Spanish,

The "winter Texans" often don't, so that is a challenge as well.

I left a bit early because of an early morning flight tomorrow, back to dangerous wind chills and plenty of snow on the ground. I do miss my kids, grandkid, friends, dog, and cats.....but I am really sad to be leaving. I love doing this. I have gone from being a teacher to a helper, though perhaps they are not all that different. I'll be leaving behind good friends and associates here but I'll be coming back. Definitely.


  1. Bless you Cheri for being a great and loving fellow human being. Keep up the great work. Remember that you too need to rest and stay well nourished and hydrated. ❤☮

  2. thank you...I mostly feel that the reward is in the doing but it does help to be acknowledged. Sometimes it feels like no one cares...but I think my role, at least, is to try to change the world one person at a time.