Catholic Charities Staffers Head to Southern Border to Lend Helping Hand (Andy Telli, Tennessee Register; Photos courtesy Catholic Charities of TN)

Posted 07/27/2018

Pam Russo, executive director of Catholic Charities of Tennessee, and two staff members have traveled to the border in Texas to work at a welcome center for migrants who have recently been released from detention.

The welcome center, the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley's Humanitarian Respite Center, is in McAllen, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

About 600 people a week, after they have been released by U.S. immigration officials, find their way to the center for a shower, clean clothes, a hot meal, and a welcoming face.

"They are on the front line," Russo said of the center's staff.

Catholic Charities USA has reached out to Catholic Charities agencies across the country to send people to lend a helping hand to the center's staff and give them a respite from the heavy workload. "We just can't turn our backs" on a fellow agency that needs help, Russo said.

Russo and staffers Emily DeVito of the Refugee Services Office and Louisa Saratora of the Tennessee Office of Refugees, will be joining Catholic Charities staffers from Bridgeport, Connecticut; Lansing, Michigan; Fort Worth, Texas; and Joliet, Illinois, in volunteering at the center.

They left Nashville on July 24 and will be working in Texas through Aug. 1, when another team of volunteers from Catholic Charities agencies will take over, Russo said.

Russo will serve as a team leader, working with the center's staff to coordinate assignments for volunteers, she said. "I'm an old Red Crosser," she said. "I've been in tons of disaster situations, including Katrina."

DeVito and Saratora, who both speak Spanish, will be working with the people coming to the center for help.

The respite center is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or until all the clients have been helped, Russo said. The clients receive aid to meet their material needs, such as food and clean clothing, as well as help navigating the U.S. immigration system, Russo said.

Some of the people who come to the center have a sponsor in the United States. "We're a way station till they get there," Russo said.

Many people are interested in volunteering at the center or making donations of food and clothes, Russo explained. The center's staff needs help in organizing the volunteers and the donations, she added.

"There's enough to keep us busy," Russo said. "We're going to have long days."


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