For over 60 years, Maggie Salinas has done her part to ensure that the men, women and children of Kingsville have received the help they’ve needed, whether she extended her hand to those in need herself or worked quietly behind the scenes.
At the age of 17, Salinas worked in social services for Kleberg County; while her time in the social services department only lasted about a decade, her dedication to serving those in need was only beginning.
“The experience stays with you. You never lose it, as well as knowing there’s a need for help and the results of helping,” Salinas said.
This time, Salinas’ helping hand has extended past Kleberg County to children from Latin American countries.
For the past few years, Salinas has traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to volunteer and donate items to the Humanitarian Respite Center, a crisis relief center created by the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. The center opened its doors in June 2014 to aid undocumented immigrants passing through The Valley.
The center is a refuge for those who have traveled from Central America – such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – to rest, eat and shower before continuing on their journey to, hopefully, lead a better life in the United States.
Salinas was visiting in the Rio Grande Valley nearly three years ago when she heard about the center and how many of the refugees included young children – children, she said, who made a journey of hundreds of miles alone.
“Whatever they’re running from in their country – to leave their homes, by themselves, has to be a strong reason,” Salinas said, adding that her desire to help the children has nothing to do with politics. “Where there is a need for children in terms of well-being, rules should not be considered and (not) helping should not be an option.”
“There’s a dire need, and those of us who can help should help any child in need,” she added.
Salinas said that she is aware – perhaps more so through her years of experience in social services – of women and children in need of help right here in Kingsville. Salinas pointed out that Kingsville is a unique small town, where there are not only government resources, but also numerous charities and boards comprised of generous citizens who are always willing to help their fellow residents.
These refugees, Salinas said, do not have the same resources.
“Once you see them, you want to do more. Their future is so uncertain, and if there is any little thing I can do – like supply socks – I’ll do it,” Salinas said.
On Saturday, Dec. 3, Salinas traveled to the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen to deliver items that are much-needed – boxes of diapers, packages of new socks for both adults and children, and clothes.
Salinas also brought stuffed animals, educational flash cards, coloring books and crayons, and books for children.
“I wanted to bring books for the children to read, and even if they can’t read, they can color. They can look at the pictures and have an idea of the storyline,” Salinas said. “It’s not just for reading – it’s an escape for them to enjoy and learn. Giving a child an education or tools to learn is letting a child know that they are important.”
“These children – they are important,” she added tearfully.
The respite center is located at a Catholic church in McAllen, and has several stations for the immigrants – tables to eat at a play area for young children, an area for the immigrants to sign in to be processed, and bathrooms and showers.
In the center are tables of clothing for men, women and children, sorted by gender and size. On the walls looking down at the numerous volunteers and tired immigrants are pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgen de Guadalupe.
Outside the center, in the fenced parking lot, are three large tents, which is where the immigrants are housed during their stay.
Men, women and children of all ages are seated outside the doors, waiting patiently and quietly for their turn to shower and eat. Some children are with adults, staying close to their mothers or fathers and never leaving their sides, even on trips to the bathroom.
Other children, as young as four, sit alone, carefully not making eye contact with anyone, waiting for a trusting adult, like a female volunteer or a nun, to guide them through the center after traveling solo.
Because they are minors traveling alone, Salinas is not able to communicate with the young children; with a warm smile and a small wave, Salinas can only hope that her presence volunteering at the center speaks to those seeking refuge.
“This is not about politics. This is a calling to help,” Salinas said. “This is letting them know that someone cares. Humanitarianism is a gift that we should all share.”
Cesar Mata, the volunteer coordinator at the Humanitarian Respite Center, said he appreciates people like Salinas who take the time to travel from out-of-town to help at the center.
“These volunteers are great people, and it’s great knowing that they are able to make the trip down here to volunteer and give us all a hand,” Mata said.
Salinas said she plans to return to the center in February and is collecting items such as new socks, new underwear, clothes and blankets to donate. Those who would like to donate items, or accompany Salinas on her trip, may contact her at (361) 355-2359.
“I will do this for as long as I can. My heart knows no boundaries,” Salinas said.