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Report from the Tijuana Border (as of April 22)

As many of you know, I made a super hard decision and cancelled my flight back to Tijuana on April 1. It was a responsible decision but not an easy one.

Even in a huge city like Tijuana, people are now hunkered down. Restaurants and bars are closed and very few people are on the streets, because the only people allowed to be out are essential workers. The border remains closed for the next 60 days. Asylum seekers waiting in shelters are understandably stressed even more than they were before. Information is in short supply, as is adequate testing to give people information on the scope of COVID-19 infections. It's an extremely difficult time for everyone in shelters there.

It's not an easy time for Javier either, because what we were doing is curtailed for the time being. We've had lots of talks about how we can best be of service and keep him safe during this time. Here's what he is doing:

1. He still walks over to El Chaparral every morning, seven days a week, to see if anyone there needs help. Lo and behold, every so often he meets someone there who needs something. A few days ago he met a woman who had come from a shelter in Playas. She was in Tijuana to buy blankets for children and adults in her shelter, and asked Javier if he knew a good place to purchase them. He walked back to La Casa with her and gave her the blankets we still had for children (thanks to Sara and her quilting friends) and some other blankets we had for adults as well. She ended up leaving in a taxi piled with Pampers and a bunch of other things.

2. He's making masks. This man KNOWS how to sew! I learned that the hard way, thinking that I, having sewn for a long time, could show him how when we had a little sewing project at La Casa. HAHA His final product turned out about fifty times better than mine! His hand-sewing looked like it was machine stitched. (He kindly explained that his grandma taught him to sew.) In the absence of a sewing machine, which we had wanted for a long time, he's been making all the masks by hand and taking them to shelters. Imagine our happiness when I told him that someone donated a sewing machine to La Casa that arrived today, April 22! The woman, an essential worker, drove the items across and also left a bunch of masks at La Casa to be picked up and distributed to several larger shelters on Thursday.

3. He’s using some of his time to repair/paint a bunch of things in the house. What renters happily do these things just because it's the right thing to do? Javier explains that he wants La Casa to be something we can be proud of and nice for the people we bring there.

4. Javier regularly checks in at five or six shelters in the downtown area once a week. Each of these shelters houses an average of 100 people. He asks them what they need. Almost always they need food. Many of these shelters have a group covering the rent and utilities, but often they run very short on food. I assumed he did this on a small scale with a few items only, since he relies on his bicycle for transportation these days, but it turns out he and our neighbor have gotten to be friends. The man likes what La Casa does and wanted to help, so he drives Javier to the Mercado once or twice a week. Javier brings home about 20 bags of food, divides up items like rice and dry beans into big Ziploc bags, and boxes everything up. Then he and our neighbor pile everything back in the car and deliver it.

He also gets many calls daily from families, some in Tijuana and some who returned home to Michoacán or Guerrero to wait, asking: What should we do? We are again in danger here at home; should we return to Tijuana? Will we be safe? Is there work? What can we do? When will this end?

He listens, but it is impossible to advise people what to do except to tell them it is not a good idea to come back to Tijuana now. There is no work and COVID-19 puts everyone moving around at risk. But he tells families in Tijuana to call if they need something and he will try to help. One such family called last week. This couple, their daughter, and another mom with two kids left their shelter because people were getting sick and they didn’t feel safe. They rented a small apartment together and were working, but now there is no work, because the restaurants where they worked are closed, and they are getting desperate. We intend to create food boxes for perhaps 15-20 individual families like this not in shelters.

My next booked flight is July 1. Hopefully, I will be on it. Meanwhile, from here in Eugene I take care of the finances, talk to Javier daily, try to budget a few months in advance, send thank-you’s, and write updates for various newsletters. I also regularly connect with about six families we know from the border, some of whom are here and some waiting in Tijuana. We continue to help them in various ways when needed. Without exception, they are so kind in asking how Javier and I are and say they are praying for us. That always makes me teary. They are worried and stressed, and still they never fail to express their hope and gratitude for many things.

Javier and I also are grateful for so many things every single day, including your continued support of La Casa de Paso. It’s no surprise that it costs more to buy these quantities of food than what we were doing prior to the shutdown.

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