By Adam Strunk
A supply convoy to help stranded children at the U.S.-Mexican border is collecting goods and will depart from Newton on April 16.
The convoy will travel 923 miles, cross the border and distribute care packages to local churches and community members in Matamoros, Mexico. The items will then be provided to children in need.
“The thought is next week we’ll have a drop off point. People will grab the goods, put them into individualized packages and distribute them to churches and facilities that house children,” said Newton Board of Education Member Andy Ortiz.
Ortiz is organizing the effort along with Newton City Council Member Clint McBroom.
Matamoros borders the U.S. town of Brownsville, Texas.
I have extended family in the area,” Ortiz said. “Me and some community members, after hearing and seeing what is going on, saw that they need help. I have pictures from the area. We’re like, ‘Let’s go.’”
Ortiz said what’s been happening is people and children have gotten stranded entering the U.S. Some have been caught crossing and sent back to Mexico.
“They find out that they can’t get here. They try to come, they get sent back, they wait, they don’t know what to do,” he said. “The Mexican side is getting more aggressive. A lot of them are trying to get shipped out to their origin where they came from.”
The result has been many people living in makeshift camps. Ortiz said that includes large numbers of vulnerable un-accompanied minors.
“The need for us and our target is children,” he said. “Food, blankets, fresh clothes, decent clothes and toiletries.”
He said that the sustained amount of people along the border has exhausted aid agencies in the area. The items from Newton would help keep children supplied and fed.
“People, pastors are all burned out, tired; they don’t have goods,” he said. “We can’t do much; we can do something. Every little bit helps.”
Drop off locations include Newton Cabinet and Furniture Co., 517 N Main, Newton, and The Gathering, 518 N Main, Newton.
Ortiz said donations will be accepted during business hours until 7 p.m. in the coming days leading up to the group’s departure early Friday morning. Again, he said that the group is looking for non-perishable food supplies, such as dried rice, beans and canned goods, as well as clothing, blankets and toiletries.
“We got a lot of it already coming in,” Ortiz said of donations. “Our community is so gracious. The main needs are beans and rice. Some of these places will cook up big bags of beans and rice.”
He said the group has four drivers signed up to haul two trucks and trailers of supplies. If they have to make two trips, he said he’s fine with it.
This isn’t the first aid drive Ortiz has been a part of. He did something similar in 2017 to help get supplies to Houston following a hurricane.
He hopes that the effort might encourage other communities to organize their own aid efforts.