Community Response: VBMC group gathers supplies for asylum seekers
It happened a week ago: Norma Arismendi, a social worker at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, was at the Good Neighbor Settlement House in downtown Brownsville and noticed the crowd of asylum seekers inside.
“I asked Jack [White] and his staff what they needed,” she recalls, “a spark ignited, and I just felt I had to get involved.”
Arismendi gathered her “Team Fe,” a “lunch bunch” of her VBMC co-workers that “thrive on community service.” Together, they developed Project K.I.N.D. “[C]Kommunity In Need of Donating,” and put together outreach activities including a “Christmas Memories” event last year for the older members of the Brownsville community who found themselves alone at the holidays.
By last Friday, Team Fe had gathered supplies ranging from plastic tableware, to children’s socks, men’s pants, new undergarments for men, women and children, T-shirts for adults and kids, as well as Pampers, baby wipes and juice pouches for the younger migrants, and on Monday, presented them to both Jack White, director of Good Neighbor Settlement House and Victor Maldonado, director of the Ozanam Center.
“What started out within a small volunteer circle of our group here at Valley Baptist spread, and before I knew it, we had doctors and their families dropping by the Main Lobby with their donations, and we’ve had such an incredible response,” Arismendi says.
Every night, the donation box in the lobby would be emptied, and the contributions would be stored in a nearby office, which eventually led the administration to approve the use of its conference room on Monday to temporarily house the supplies.
Both directors graciously accepted the bounty of contributions, and White wanted to accentuate the fact that the donations would be going to legal asylum seekers who are now in our community with little or no personal belongings after risking their arduous journeys.
“All these folks have initially undergone a ‘quasi-judicial process’ at the border, through I.C.E. or the Border Patrol,” White explained. “We are handling the ‘triage’ portion, where they can be fed, have a shower, and get some clothes,” White emphasized. “They’ve already been cleared, just waiting here for a few hours when their bus or plane ticket - paid for by their sponsors or families – [that] will take them to a haven while they await their immigration hearing(s).”
Since March, both the Ozanam and Good Neighbor shelters estimate that they have attended to the needs of more than 6,000 men, women and children of the migrant community, or approximately 100 refugees per day, and they also continue serving the homeless citizenry of Brownsville.
In order to enable the ongoing efficiency of the influx White declared, “We are very mindful that there not be a backlog. Both shelters maintain a rapid-turnaround rate.”
Maldonado, the Ozanam director, explained, “The City of Brownsville’s Emergency Services continue to maintain and determine where the families are from, and where they’re going. An average stay is usually less than a day, and those who may need to stay overnight remain at our facility because our capacity is larger” than the Good Neighbor shelter.
Maldonado said that sometimes the asylum seekers are taken by officers from either Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Good Neighbor shelter due to its five-block proximity to the downtown bus station.
White also underscored the fact that “neither of the two federal agencies ever gives the shelters a ‘heads-up,’” and both shelter directors expressed their ongoing concern that dropping off the asylum seekers at the bus station “at all hours” is not only confusing, but a public safety issue.
As Arismendi presented the directors with the donations, she declared that Project K.I.N.D. will continue.
“This all started with an idea, and we are proud of the fact that here in Brownsville, our community provides a ‘fertile ground,’ Arismendi says. “We love our community.”
For further information, or to make a donation to Project K.I.N.D., please contact Norma Arismendi directly at (956) 893-0223.