SOUTH KINGSTOWN — As he prepares to travel to El Paso, Texas to volunteer with Annunciation House, Rev. David Helfer, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of South County, is asking that others join him in making a difference in the lives of immigrants at the southern border.
“At some core level, these are our siblings,” said Helfer, who is seeking donations that will let him respond to the various needs of the shelter and those whom it serves. “We just are in different circumstances, but it’s common humanity.”
“I believe I can’t preach the values I preach if I’m not putting them into action,” he continued.
Located several blocks from the Mexico-U.S. border, Annunciation House strives to “accompany the migrant, homeless and economically vulnerable peoples of the border region through hospitality, advocacy and education.”
As part of that mission, the organization provides temporary housing to immigrants who have just been released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, assisting them in meeting their basic needs and connecting with family or friends.
“It’s interesting, because until recently, at most of those [border crossings], there was a fair amount of flow,” Helfer pointed out.
Since the recent crackdown on immigration, however, more and more immigrants are either being deported or released by ICE directly onto the streets of border communities like El Paso.
“They’re here with nothing,” Helfer said. “They’re trying to get to family or to people they know.”
Motivated by a desire to help, Helfer applied for the two-week volunteer opportunity with Annunciation House through the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice. And as his Jan. 20 departure to El Paso approaches, he said he looks forward to gaining a fuller understanding of the immigration situation at the border.
“I think there’s part of me that selfishly just wants to feel like I’m doing something useful,” Helfer said. “But I think also, for me, it takes it out of the realm of theory, to say, ‘OK, this is what’s actually happening.’”
Helfer added he’s also been motivated by conversations with others who have volunteered at the southern border.
“Everyone I’ve talked to that has actually been doing work at the border says that if you understood what was going on, you’d be in the streets every day,” he said.
Whether by assisting immigrants in locating family members in the U.S. or by ensuring they have the basic supplies they need to begin their new lives, Helfer plans to help out in whatever way he’s needed.
“It might be helping to do the documentation for asylum,” he added. “But it’s also parents who have been separated from their children, so sometimes it’s actually trying to help track that. It’s really just supporting the work that Annunciation House has done for a long time.”
All proceeds raised through a GoFundMe page dedicated to this trip will go toward purchasing necessities for the immigrants served by Annunciation House—items like cough syrup, baby bottles, lice shampoo, cool packs and brushes.
“What Annunciation House says is, ‘we need these supplies,’ and of course I can’t bring all that on a plane,” Helfer added. “The money means I can do those kinds of runs [to pick up supplies].”
With $1,250 as a goal, any money raised above what’s needed for supplies will be donated directly to Annunciation House.
And Helfer certainly appreciates the generosity.
“I’m kind of taking all of you with me,” he said. “I carry all of you in my heart, and feel like I’m not just working on my behalf—it’s the shared hearts and minds of local Rhode Islanders.”
Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/necessities-for-asuylum-seekers.