McALLEN — Angeli Fuentes, 10, hugged a small pillow with colorful dragonflies printed on it Tuesday as she sat quietly alongside her mother waiting to board the first of several buses that would take them on a 40-hour ride to Washington, D.C.
“I love it, it’s going to help me sleep,” said the 10-year old bright eyed girl from Guatemala. Her 28-year-old mother, Miriam Fuentes, sat next to her holding their belongings and some of the other items they received from the Sacred Heart Respite Center before they were dropped off at the bus station.
“It was a rough trip, but we made it,” said Miriam in Spanish. “We were lucky that we had people to guide us along the way and help me and my daughter, including the people here who welcomed us with open arms and open hearts.”
Members of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team, an international humanitarian relief group, visited McAllen this week to bring a little bit of hope and comfort to hundreds of mothers and children like Angeli who recently fled their homes in pursuit of a better life.
Carolyn Thalman, leader of the refugee ministry team arrived Saturday in the Rio Grande Valley, along with eight other PDA members from Winchester, Virginia. This is the first time the PDA visits the respite center here and they brought about 400 pillow covers made by their parish in an effort to bring some relief to these migrant mothers and fathers traveling with young children.
“The kids are hanging on their moms and sleeping on their moms and this way they have something else to lie on,” Thalman said. “They are delightful prints that any child that has been traveling — no matter by foot, by car, whatever — it will make them happy.”
As the members passed out the last of their pillows Tuesday afternoon, one of the dozen children gathered around them approached Thelman and hugged her.
“The little boy started saying something to us and we couldn’t’ really understand him, but when he came up to me he hugged me and said ‘I love you’ in English,” she said. “That’s the first child that has hugged us, which I thought was very special.”
Thalman said Patti Sunday, the respite center’s communication’s director, mentioned the idea of the pillows about a month ago during their first contact with the group and they thought it was perfect because the parish already had a sewing group. The group then reached out to community members in Winchester and Fairfax, Virginia, to donate materials for the pillow covers and for volunteers to help with the sewing. The group knew they couldn’t travel with hundreds of pillows so they ordered some pillow inserts to be delivered to the respite center, but when they arrived here they realized most of their order had been lost.
They spent the last two days going to every Wal-Mart around the Valley to buy 12-inch by 16-inch size pillow inserts to fit the covers, but could only come up with about 100. They are hoping to continue looking for more, but anyone who wishes to help them by purchasing some of the 12×16 pillow inserts can contact Catholic Charities at (956) 874-4677 or visit the center at 306 S. 15th Street, McAllen, TX, 78501.