Where’s Sheryl? Witnessing the crisis at the border with the McAllen12+ humanitarian group

by Sheryl Young, San Mateo County Program Director

They call themselves the McAllen12+, and “I want my mommy” became their motto and T-shirt design because, as organizer Lilli Rey said, “Who doesn’t understand that in any language? Every child deserves that.”

Sheryl Young and the McAllen12+

Cheryl Jennings from ABC7 News traveled alongside this group of twelve women, reporting that “they created a Facebook campaign to collect over 1,000 pounds of toys, clothes and books (lugging 50- to 70-pound duffle bags to the airport) for the border children” in McAllen, Texas.

It all began in Kathy Breaux’s family room, where this group of Bay Area women decided to do something about the thousands of migrant children separated from their parents. Sheryl Young, PVF’s San Mateo County Program Director, joined the McAllen12+ and helped the group connect, collaborate, and coordinate with McAllen local community nonprofits—a role that PVF has taken many times.

Sister Norma Pimentel of the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen

“Frankly, what we really want to do is go in that building (the Detention Center) and hug those children, but we know that’s not possible,” said Rey. But what they could do was help families when they were released from the Detention Centers, driven to the bus station, and given bus passes for their next destination.

The Catholic Charities Respite Center, located across the street from the bus station, is a place where families can take showers and receive food and clothing. Many of these families have been traveling on foot for days and are without these basic necessities.

The McAllen12+ took food to the volunteers and staff at the Respite Center, dropped off donations collected from their Facebook campaign, and in the process, organized the Respite Center’s 1800-square-foot warehouse by sorting donations.

While the McAllen12+ were dropping off donations at the local Boys and Girls Club, they were told that three families had just been released from the Detention Center: Jasmaree, a 21-year-old mother who had fled Honduras with her 2-year-old son, both now on their way to Sacramento; an 8-month pregnant woman and her 7-year-old son, both who had been walking for 28 days and were covered with mud; and a father with his teenage son. They all had bus tickets (leaving in less than an hour) but had no clothing, food, or money. The McAllen12+ had brought a small pink suitcase with them in a duffle bag, just in case it was needed, and they decided to put it to use then. With the pink suitcase and two backpacks full of clothing and toiletries, food purchased by a Catholic Charities volunteer, and collected cash, the three families boarded the buses and went on their way. The McAllen12+ was making a difference at the border, one pink suitcase and one family at a time.

Even as the group is back in the Bay Area, their work continues. Sheryl is now assisting Belinda Arriaga from A.L.A.S. (a PVF grantee) to take a group of Spanish-speaking graduate students in the Master of Social Work program at the University of San Francisco to the border to help with intake and crisis counseling for the children.

“Our hearts are aching as we imagine the deep suffering and trauma the children and their families are experiencing,” Belinda said. “With our motto to ‘change the world from here’ we want to be able to use our collective strengths to go out to support in any way we can. I am so grateful to be connected to Sheryl and the McAllen12+. Their work on the ground has opened a path for others to support these families. It is such a blessing to be connected to a group of mamas and heroes that are on the front lines of being a light in a time of darkness in our country.”

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