Respite center marks third anniversary

The Valley Catholic

McALLEN — Changes are in store as the Humanitarian Respite Center celebrates its third anniversary.

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened the center on June 10, 2014 in the parish hall of Sacred Heart Church in downtown McAllen in response to an influx of families from Central America fleeing violence, poor economic conditions and natural disasters in their home countries.

More than 72,200, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have been served since the center opened its doors.

Center operations will be relocated across the street to a building located at 314 S. 16th St. by the end of the summer, said Sister Norma Pimentel of the Missionaries of Jesus, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. The building is next door to the site where Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley plans to construct a new facility tailor made for the needs of the immigrants and the community.

Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said, “The center symbolizes and celebrates the heart of the Rio Grande Valley community, which has shown its solidarity and compassion at all times.”

Sister Pimentel thanked Franciscan Father Thomas Luczak and the entire parish community for the use of the parish hall and for all their support.

On April 30, A Ride for Hope, a 20-mile bike ride from the border wall in Hidalgo to the future site of the center, helped raise funds for work of the Humanitarian Respite Center.

The goal, said Sister Pimentel, was also to bring attention to the community’s continued support for helping people in need and restoring the dignity of the most vulnerable. The new shelter and community center, she said, will facilitate the work of bringing hope to others.

Apprehensions at the border have dropped by 37 percent during fiscal year 2017, according to Customs and Border Protection translating to significantly lower numbers at the center.

In its peak, the center served almost 400 people a day. In recent days, the number has sometimes dropped to the single digits. Most days, however, one small group arrives in the afternoon.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, center manager Eli Fernandez made ham and cheese sandwiches for those who might drop by the center that day. The immigrants, many of whom don’t have much money on hand, take the sandwiches for the road.

“Sister Norma has always said as long as we get one or two people, we’re going to be here to help,” Fernandez said. “They’re here and they’re human. We need to take care of them and make sure they have what they need for their journey.”

Though the numbers are down, Fernandez said the support from the community has remained.

“Volunteers and donations are still coming in at a steady pace,” he said.

In 2014, Sister Pimentel heard there were families huddled at the bus station in downtown McAllen with only the clothes on their back, nothing to eat or drink and nowhere to shower or sleep. The families had been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, released with a court date and dropped off at the bus station with permission to continue to their final destinations.

Sister Pimentel opened the respite center at Sacred Heart Parish, located just two blocks away from the bus station, to provide food, clean clothing, showers, medical attention, supplies for the road, phone calls, overnight lodging and more for the immigrants.

She said the support offered by the city and hundreds of volunteers from near and far and from numerous organizations including the Salvation Army, different faith groups and organizations, made the work of the center possible.


Center operations will be relocated across the street to a building located at 314 S. 16th St. in McAllen by the end of the summer

Humanitarian Respite Center