SANTA ANA, CA – St. Anne School community held a major service project earlier this month called Project Bienvenidos for Our Lady of Soledad Church in Coachella.
The project began when a Sister of St. Joseph went out to Coachella and was dismayed at the migrant conditions before boarding buses to unite with their sponsors. Half of the migrants served are children from Central America. Many had not slept for days, had taken buses, trains or walked many miles through Mexico. After being processed at the border, families were dropped off at Our Lady of Soledad Church and had neither food nor water. At times they were sick, had blisters, not enough clothing – especially for the winter season in the high desert – and had not taken showers in days.
Sr. Florence Waters, program director at Our Lady of Soledad Church, explained that migrants stay at the center for one to three days. They then continue their journey to be united with their relatives. There are up to 100 people that are dropped off at the San Bernardino bus station each day.
St. Anne School students and their families, faculty, and school board collected items that the migrants would need for a long bus trip. Items included tissues, wipes, sanitizers, coloring books, crayons, lip balms, deodorants, shampoos, candies, granola bars, and stuffed animals. Water was sent separately. In addition, St. Anne students wrote cards in Spanish and placed them in the travel bags. Students who had the ability to give more had the opportunity to donate clean backpacks, shoes, used or new, with socks.
Students worked together for Project Bienvenidos. An older student is paired with a younger student. Together, they filled the bags with all of the donated items before moving to classrooms to write their letters. Students filled more than 100 backpacks, along with much-needed underwear for children, men, and women. Community donors, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange and Mater Dei High School gave extra donations. In total, St. Anne School community transported more than 100 backpacks, 100 pairs of shoes with socks, and 150 travel bags, along with over 75 sets of underwear for men, women, and children. One large truck and four SUVs transported all the items.
The migrants and center staff in Coachella were moved. Sr. Flo shared that the week prior of St. Anne’s arrival, the center had run out of shoes and the bins were all empty. St. Anne School volunteers spent the next three hours helping to organize all of the items in a trailer with bins and areas for each kind of item.
Scripture often reminds us to provide hospitality to newcomers as if we are welcoming Christ Himself. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, including immigrants and refugees, no matter the circumstances that bring a person to begin the journey for a new life in our community. At the 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis reminded us that, “through works of charity, we demonstrate our faith (cf. Jas 2:18). And the highest form of charity is that shown to those unable to reciprocate and perhaps even to thank us in return.”