A Crisis Too Close to Home
3/22/2019By Andrew Fowler
Knights from Council 7950 make supply deliveries to help migrant caravan in Tijuana, Mexico.
Knights of Columbus Holy Family of the Mountains Council 7950 in Crestline, Calif., is over 130 miles north from Tijuana, Mexico. But Knights, including Chuck Abajian and Jim Brunetti, travel every 4 to 6 weeks to the city to deliver food, hygienic products and even education funds to the area.
Council 7950, which encompasses three parishes, sends supplies to St. Eugene de Mazenod Parish in La Morita, just outside of Tijuana, in conjunction with the outreach service group, Mother Cabrini Mission Circle of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Crestline.
But late last year, when a caravan of over 5,000 Central Americans seeking asylum arrived in Tijuana, the Knights made a concerted effort to complete an unscheduled supply run to help the migrant caravan in spite of the potential danger.
“This was a humanitarian crisis that was too close to our home that we didn’t want to ignore,” said Abajian. “These people basically just had the clothes on their back and they’re living in a donated tent. …They had nothing.”
In December, the Knights and other volunteers drove five trucks loaded with supplies down to Tijuana. On past trips, they had been turned back by Mexican customs agents because certain items were prohibited at the time, including clothes, sheets and shoes. The Knights expected to be turned away again this trip, but the Mexican customs agents were lenient.
“They didn’t even look at the load,” said Abajian. “Normally, they look at the load and charge us a tax, but we told them where it was going and they just let us right through.”
After multiple security checks, the Knights finally reached the migrants. Men were living in tents outside on an open, cement court, while women and children under 2 years old were sleeping on the floor in a local warehouse.
“They had tents, upon tents like you wouldn’t believe all over. High and low, all over this abandoned fairground,” said Brunetti. “There’s a lot of poverty. You can taste the poverty.”
During the supply delivery, each family received a food bag containing 10 pounds of potatoes, beans, rice, flour and sugar. The Knights also brought toys, small furniture and tools for children and parents to pick out. As Abajian described it, “Every family gets something.”
One man from Guatemala had racks of baked goods in his makeshift home. At night, he would sell the food around the migrant settlement. To help him support his family, the Knights brought him a 100-pound sack of flour.
Brunetti said he was awestruck by a 19-year old man, who had a wife and baby, because of his optimism despite the potential 8-month wait before meeting with U.S. immigration officers.
“He knew that he was there and that he was going to have a better future for his baby and his wife,” said Brunetti.
This optimism for a better future was a common sentiment among the migrants.
“They see this star, the United States, which its abundance and wealth,” said Brunetti. “They have this star of hope, which is a promise that is much greater than where they are living or their situation. They are willing to live in hovels or not much of anything just so they can perhaps have this opportunity for a better life.”
The Knights initially partnered with St. Eugene de Mazenod because of the poverty resulting from cartel violence. Most of the fundraising for supplies is supported by Council 7950’s weekly bingo. Last year, the Knights gave the parish $2,000 for an education scholarship, which pays for a few semesters.
“Education is the only way out of poverty in Mexico, so we are trying to step it up,” said Abajian.
With a new caravan journeying to the border, members from Council 7950 are ready to assist those in need.
“It’s all about working together, and that is the thing about the Knights: it unites men with other people,” said Brunetti. “We are the organizers. We are the people that are the salt or the flavor that stimulate and get things started.”
The Knights of Columbus is the largest fraternal Catholic organization in the world with almost 2 million members, including in Mexico. Last year, the Knights collectively donated $185 million and volunteered over 70 million hours.
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