Waiting outside Centro San Vicente
Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua is a very poor border city of about 5,000 residents located just over the international border in Chihuahua, Mexico from Columbus, New Mexico. With the crime and violence that began in earnest in 2008, especially in northern Chihuahua and especially in Juarez and Palomas, many families have been devastated with the loss of loved ones, dislocation of families and communities, and the economic collapse brought on with the fall of cross-border tourism and trade with Palomas. Children are the most affected, with many living in absolute poverty, a high rate of hunger and mental trauma brought on by the violence.
Realizing that even a small token of generosity would go along way with these children, the Christmas Shoeboxes for the Children of Palomas project was started in 2009 in collaboration among the then Interim Mayor of Palomas, affiliates of Our Lady of Las Palomas Interfaith Retreat Center located in Columbus, and Majie Powey, a now retired RN who used to work with the New Mexico Department of Health at the Local Public Health Office in Truth or Consequences. Majie recruited Susan Garrison, Nurse Practitioner working at the Local Public Health Office in Silver City, various employees of the New Mexico Department of Health, and several community and faith-based organizations, and volunteers began accumulating toys, clothing, books, crayons, candy, and useful hygiene articles for filling hundreds of shoeboxes. Majie contacted Paul Dulin, the Director of the Office of Border Health in Las Cruces, to request assistance in gathering gift boxes and getting all the boxes over the border into Palomas, and staff of the Office also labored to pull together more than 100 filled shoeboxes. Paul wrote letters and communicated with Mexican Customs in Palomas, negotiating duty-free entry of some 300 shoeboxes plus hundreds of loose toys, dolls, toothbrushes, candy canes and the like that were distributed to more than 400 children. The project was repeated in 2010, when volunteers organized with the Mayor of Palomas and his staff to present shoeboxes or loose toys to about 500 children.
Shoeboxes organized by age and gender.
For the 2011 Christmas Shoebox for Palomas Children effort this year, Majie enlisted the help of Rev. Susan Hutchins of Our Lady of Las Palomas, who together really garnered lots of assistance from multiple congregations and community organizations in Truth or Consequences including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Health Parish, Lady Roadrunners (golf group) , and the Cowbelles who prepared about 220 shoeboxes. Many members of the community and faith-based organizations in Deming donated to the project. In Las Cruces, Deacon Barbara Fry worked with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church members and friends to facilitate preparation of about 180 Christmas shoeboxes. The Office of Border Health in Las Cruces served as a collecting point and various community members and employees of the Department of Health, along with staff of Family and Youth, Inc. donated items and filled boxes for an additional 110 boxes and bags of loose toys, backpacks, cadies and toothbrushes. Office of Border Health staff worked after hours to wrap and fill 80 boxes. And Denise Chavez, of the Cultural Center of Mesilla and organizer of the annual Border Book Festival, donated 150 new bilingual children’s books entitled “Manchado and His Friends”.
Opening his Christmas Shoebox.
On Saturday, December 17, a total of 510 Christmas shoeboxes were carried across the border to Palomas, along with hundreds of loose toys, dolls and stuffed animals, candies, books and backpacks. Majie was joined by Rev. Susan Hutchins and Truth or Consequences volunteers Rich and Ruth Classen and their son Drew, Mary Jean Mulherin (a “snowbird from Minnesota), and Claudia Reames (who attended her third straight year with the project), and Office of Border Health Director Paul Dulin, to carry the packages into Palomas and distribute them to the Children.
Staff of Puerto Palomas Sectional Municipality came up with an excellent method for organizing the children into lines by age groups (infants to two years, 3-5, 6-9, 10-15) in the Salon San Vicente, an events center in Palomas. Children remained orderly, waiting their turn to walk across a stage where gifts were organized by these same age groups and gender. By the time the last children came up on stage, all boxes and gifts had been distributed. A total of an estimated 650 children received either a shoebox or several loose toys, dolls, books and/or backpacks. As Majie says: “We always run out, but every child at least received something!”
The organizers of this project thank all of the volunteers for their time and those staff and community members who donated boxes, toys, and other articles to make this year’s project a great success!
The deadline for the 2012 project is DECEMBER 14, 2012! For information on what to donate, click here.
New Mexico Border Health
- Policy and Binational Coordination
- Local and Regional Coordination
- Health Promotion, Communication & Education
- Epidemiology and Surveillance
- Environmental Health and Justice
- Research and Assessments