Diann Whisnand is one of CBF’s field personnel serving in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Her efforts are mostly in Hidalgo County, which is top in the U.S. for concentrated poverty, and she works on several levels addressing the issue of systemic poverty.
Whisnand’s main focus—the Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center—is a development ministry specifically targeting Latino adults who want to address their lack of education or English skills. Recently, she has also helped CBF to coordinate aid given to refugees crossing the border after the huge influx of families and children entering the U.S. from Central American Countries.
By Diann Whisnand
As a field personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I’ve been ministering in the Rio Grande Valley since 2011 to those who are caught in the cycle of systemic poverty. The demands of ministry, especially in a poverty stricken area, drive my days and keep me very busy.
Recently, I spent a day roaming the streets of McAllen, Texas, my hometown, looking for Central American refugees that have recently crossed through Mexico, across the Rio Grande River and into my community by the thousands, seemingly creating their own trail of tears.
Surprisingly, I didn’t find large groups of refugees in turmoil. I only found small groups, surrounded by a large number of community volunteers waiting to lend a helping hand and speak a kind word. I found one refugee woman who agreed to let me photograph her as she sat in the gymnasium of Sacred Heart Cathedral, surrounded by relief and support.
I met Sister Ophelia and her cadre of smiling Catholic Charities volunteers, who have developed a smooth running operation at their church. Sacred Heart is a strategic stopover located just two blocks from the McAllen bus terminal. Refugees are escorted directly from the bus station and invited to shower, pick up some food and clothes and sleep on a cot for the night before heading on to their destination.
Next, I walked over to the bus station, curious to see how the crisis was unfolding there. A month ago, I’d heard that the bus station was overwhelmed with refugees, and was asking for help from the community. What I found was another group of more-than-happy volunteers, waiting to be of service to the next group of refugees arriving from the Border Patrol processing facilities. I found the large terminal to be in business-as-usual mode, with busy travelers and the typical lunch counter crowd in place.
I backtracked to the Catholic church and talked with several other volunteer groups who were helping out there. The Salvation Army of Hidalgo County had some volunteers running the kitchen, and I met two gentlemen who had come all the way from Lubbock, Texas, to help cook.
I found a couple of refugee children playing in a very engaging corner of book and toys, hosted and operated by the Save the Children organization, known around the world for their work with children. Artwork created by the children dotted the walls.
I talked with several men who said that outside security and night watchmen were being provided by the City of McAllen Police Department so
that the volunteers could go home at night and the refugees could get a quiet night’s sleep under a veil of protection.
I next roamed over to Calvary Baptist Church, my own church, to get a photo of the mobile laundry truck brought down to the Valley by Texas
Baptist Men, a volunteer group of responders who were called upon by the government early in the crisis. The truck is now on loan to Calvary and church volunteers keep the washers and dryers going every day, filled with linens and clothes brought over from Sacred Heart Cathedral.
My last stop of the day was to the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank in the neighboring city of Pharr to talk to my friend Terri who directs the food bank. She had offered to use the cavernous Food Bank as the receiving site for all refugee donations to this area.
As I walked around the Food Bank, I spotted the pallets of bottled water donated by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and was reminded of the level of support and cooperation that all of us here in the Valley have experienced in the past couple of months.
By the end of the day’s journey, I also learned how Cooperative Baptists across the United States can give aid. For Fellowship churches and individuals who have inquired, here’s how to best help:
1) Donate gift cards from bulk retailers (Sam’s, Costco) to be used for continuously needed supplies in large quantities such as laundry detergent, bleach, Pedialyte (dehydration), etc. These cards can be mailed directly to Diann Whisnand at PO Box 1752, Pharr, TX 78577
2) Donate directly to CBF Project #89957 (Diann Whisnand) to be used for specific, smaller needs as requested by local relief ministry partners.
3) Donate to CBF CARES: Children and Refugee Emergency Support – $5,000 was donated in June for bottled water, and these funds will be used to help meet needs of Central American families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The McAllen community is able to help family unit refugees only, typically young mothers with children. Unaccompanied refugee children are not released out into any community. They are transported directly under the guardianship of the Federal Government to centers managed by contracted child service agencies. This provides another level of protection for the unaccompanied children while alone in the United States.
I’m proud of my community, and how it has stepped up and come together in a crisis. The city of McAllen, its churches, agencies, nonprofits and individuals have figured out a plan, a model of compassionate community that is working. My field trip along the local refugee trail gave me reason to pause and give thanks to God for what I saw. I’m humbled by God’s power to watch over and care for those who suffer.