The pace was hectic along the pantry line Friday at the Kelly Center for Hunger Relief near Downtown El Paso. Volunteers moved as if part of a choreographed number on a narrow asphalt dance floor.
Among this week’s “performers” were some Venezuelan migrants, and organizers were happy to have them.
A few of them took a break from their work to unpack and hand out containers or packages of creamers, soft drinks, biscuits, candy, fresh vegetables and frozen fish, to talk about their decision to come to the United States and to help at the center.
Willdarly Suarez, Carlos Perdomo and Ambar Orellana are among the Venezuelan volunteers at the center, 915 N. Florence.. They came to the U.S. for a better quality of life. The trio said they had their papers and were ready to move on to the next leg of their journey, but lacked the money to get to Denver or Chicago where friends waited for them.
Suarez, Perdomo and Orellana said they were grateful to be volunteers because it got them some meals and fresh clothes from the center’s community closet, but it also distracted them from their current living situation on the streets around Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 602 S. Oregon, about a mile away.
“I like to help,” said Suarez, 24. “I like to give back. I like to work.”
Suarez, who shared that his traveling companion was God, said he needed $30 to buy a bus ticket to Denver. He said he accepted tips when offered, but does not like to ask for money. The man, who left his 4-year-old son with family, is an experienced butcher. He would like a job in that field, but will take whatever he can get.
“I’m a fast learner,” he said before he returned to the pantry line.
The center’s regular volunteers spoke highly of their migrant helpers. Ralph Rasura, a member of St. Luke Catholic Church on the Westside, called the Venezuelans cordial, proactive and hard working.
“You only have to tell them what to do once and then it’s done,” Rasura said. “They’re very nice and respectful, and it’s not fake. It’s just who they are. We are so grateful for their help.”
None of the center’s volunteers had a bigger smile than Orellana, 29. Friday was her third day in the U.S. and her third day as a center volunteer.
“I like to be here because I don’t have to be afraid of (U.S. Customs and Border Protection), and thinking that I have to run when I see them,” Orellana said.
She made the journey by herself, but hopes to raise the necessary money to buy a bus ticket for Chicago. She would like to find work in her field, drywall installation, but said no one here wants to hire a woman for that.
Perdomo, an experienced refrigeration technician, said a friend is waiting for him in Chicago but he will go wherever God sends him. For now, the 28-year-old migrant is enjoying his time as a Kelly Center volunteer.
“Doing something helps the day go by faster,” he said.
Warren E. Goodell, executive director of the Kelly Center, said some migrants come to help and others come to get help with their asylum applications. They need assistance with translations and transferring the information into a computer. He estimated that about 15 of them came for asylum help. He said about 20 migrant volunteers, who are not eligible to receive food from the pantry, began to show up earlier this week. He said their desire to help is emblematic.
“It’s not unusual for those in need to want to give back,” Goodell said. “It’s a great way to feel good.”
While the extra volunteers helped at the Kelly Center’s food pantry, which serves about 750 people daily Tuesdays through Saturdays, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank sent out an emergency call for volunteers Friday for people to help make and distribute meals to migrants in Downtown El Paso.
In a food bank press release, Lonnie Valencia, director of communications and marketing, said that the organization has been preparing 1,500 meals daily for several weeks to keep up with the current humanitarian crisis in Downtown El Paso.
“In light of this escalating need, we earnestly appeal to compassionate individuals to step forward and join us as volunteers,” Valencia wrote. “By contributing your time and skills, you can play an invaluable role in alleviating the distressing circumstances faced by numerous families.”