Outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church gymnasium, blocks away from the international border, Enrique Sandoval served migrants small white styrofoam bowls of hot chicken noodle soup.
His ladle feverishly filled as many bowls as possible last week. He was serving out of large silver pots in the trunk of his silver sedan – the bowls handed off in a seamless rhythm. It took less than 10 minutes before the soup was gone and the sound of the ladle clanging against the empty pots remained.
Sandoval did not say much about himself, but said he hopes more migrants know there is help.
“I just came to serve,” Sandoval said.
From providing a place to sleep to clothing, blankets, food and in some cases prayer – El Pasoans have been volunteering in multiple ways to help the thousands of migrants passing through the city.
The need for volunteers comes as an influx of migrants, numbering in the thousands, have been seeking shelter or sleeping in the streets of Downtown El Paso amid freezing temperatures as they seek transportation to other parts of the country.
Local nonprofits have been bursting at the seams to try to provide a place to sleep prior to the city opening emergency shelters that can hold a higher capacity of migrants.
“Everyone – everyone – is on for many hours, every day,” said Ruben Garcia, Annunciation House executive director. “People are tired and frazzled. But they keep going because they see the need.”
Annunciation House, a faith-based nonprofit, has offered temporary shelter to migrants in the region for decades.
The operation could not work without volunteers, Garcia said of those who are stepping up to help others, be it in the network of shelters or on the streets.
“If everybody did their part, imagine how much better off we’d be,” Garcia said.
At the St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish kitchen in Central El Paso Wednesday, the aroma of Mexican food filled the air as lunch was placed on a table.
The volunteers bustled around behind the small cafeteria window preparing the food. On the other side of the window in the dining area, long tables decorated with colorful table cloths and small mason jars with flowers as center pieces provided a warm and welcoming environment.
The parish is one of the El Paso Catholic Diocese churches serving as a shelter to aid in humanitarian efforts.
Volunteers are integral to the shelter operations, said Fernie Ceniceros, spokesperson for the El Paso Catholic Diocese. The diocese has four shelters and is always looking for volunteers, he said, adding that Sacred Heart Church in Segundo Barrio near the border is in special need to help prepare and serve breakfast and dinner. The church is also looking for overnight volunteers.
“Some have been here for years, others come in for a few hours or a few days,” he said. “Even if you can pitch in an hour, it’s enough.”
While coordinated efforts through local nonprofits are underway, dozens of El Pasoans have also taken it upon themselves to show up in their vehicles with supplies ranging from clothes, shoes, blankets and meals to distribute.
A wave of gratitude
A wave of gratitude rises when vehicles pull up to the Union Plaza area of Downtown El Paso near the Greyhound Bus Station and trunks pop open. People like Cynthia Duchane begin to distribute items like shoes and sweaters or food to the migrants who surround the vehicle.
Duchane drove around Downtown El Paso one morning last week and stopped on the corner of Leon and Overland near the Greyhound station. Amid the cold temperatures, she opened the back of her SUV, revealing a large pot of arroz con leche – rice pudding – and began feeding migrants who lined up to receive the food and coffee or hot cocoa.
“I’m helping out so they can stay warm. I’ve been helping out for a week. I want to help people out. If more people helped, we would have a better world,” she said.
While some volunteers bring food and clothes, others also bring prayer.
The city opened an emergency shelter at the Judson F. Williams Convention Center late Wednesday able to accommodate up to 1,500. But migrants who entered the country without being processed by Border Patrol were not allowed inside.
The pastor of Iglesia Roca y Potencia, a Christian church in South Central El Paso, prayed over the migrants who didn’t have the documentation needed to be sheltered by the city. Members of his congregation had offered coffee and prayers to migrants since Sunday, said Stephanie Marin, who was at the prayer circle with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.
“The community has given them a lot – clothing, food, blankets – but what was missing was prayer,” Marin said as other parishioners sang hymns.
Lourdes Godinez of West El Paso dropped off jackets, socks, blankets and other items to the migrants on Chihuahua Street by the Greyhound stations on Tuesday. She was joined by her nephew, Alan Fierro, and her friend, Lourdes Arredondo of Juárez.
They took coffee and two giant pots of caldo de pollo, and served the migrants there.
“What can I say?” Godinez said when asked what inspired her to volunteer. “I saw a young girl out here with only a hoodie and I thought, ‘That’s not right. That can’t be.’”
The three asked friends to donate everything from jackets to underwear.
“Everyone came through,” Godinez said.
Multiple local organizations are in need of volunteers to continue to help throughout the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
El Paso Matters reporters Cindy Ramirez and Christian Betancourt contributed to this story.