The Sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence Texas (CDPs) are collaborating with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio (IWC) and the CDP Associates to provide backpacks of supplies to refugee families crossing through San Antonio, Texas. This initiative began in May 2019, with the intention to not only do, but learn about those we are helping.

The Backpack Initiative, as it is labeled, is a service project both the Sisters and Associates have embraced with heart and spirit. Family members and friends have volunteered to assist either by donating items for the backpacks such as: snacks, drinking cups, bottled water, sanitary supplies, crayons and coloring books, and blankets, among other things. The CDPs have gone beyond the desired item list and added their special touch: homemade pillows. This concept was the brainchild of the CDPs advocacy circle on supporting family life during their general assembly annual meeting. One hundred and thirty-three pillows were sewn and stuffed with love by Sisters Margaret Ann Verzwyvelt and Annalee Prather, and packed into backpacks on Saturday, August 31, 2019, during the “3rd Round” of the initiative. The IWC buys the backpacks and blankets in bulk for the Office of Associates, though several Associates have also donated backpacks. Supplies to fill the bags have been donated by Sisters, Associates, CDP donors, CDP staff, and many others.

Sisters Annalee Prather and Maria Cristina Ruelas have been faithful to this service project, providing their time, treasure, and as always, encouragement.

“I truly believe in this project. What a wonderful way for us Sisters to work hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder with our Associates,” stated Sister Maria Cristina, CDP. “And, these days [of service] are educational as well! We are fortunate to see this project grow and grow. What is being done in one day will serve more good than we can ever imagine.”

To date, 353 backpacks have been delivered to IWC for distribution. The number of people participating in this initiative have doubled since its beginning. In this last round, staff, family members, and friends of both Sisters and Associates contributed to the success of this endeavor. “I was very pleased with the number of people who came to help,” adds Sister Annalee. “As someone who has worked with Associates in Louisiana for a long time, I am very, very pleased to meet the San Antonio group and see how much they love their ministry, just by showing up to help. I can assure you that our founder, Fr. Moye, is very pleased that we continue to minister to those most in need.”

In the latest round, Sister Jule Adele Espey, CDP commented on how impressed she was with the number of people who help. “The range of ages is impressive. Everyone seems so enthusiastic about this project,” she commented. “I’m impressed with the variety of items [for the backpacks] and how organized it is.” Sister Jule Adele promises to keep participating in this “worthwhile” effort for as long as possible.

On a Saturday morning in June, the first round took place with approximately 20 volunteers. The number of people coming through San Antonio daily, either at the bus station or municipal airport, outweighs the number of volunteers. Sister Lourdes Leal, CDP goes to the bus station to help the refugees traveling through San Antonio simply by being present to them. She and another Sister have been faithful to the bus station ministry for the last two years. “The people who we see at the station are not asking for anything more than to have someone tell them that everything will be okay; that everything will work out for them on their journey to meet their blood family or a host family,” commented Sister Lourdes. “There are agencies in this city that promote justice and have volunteers come in daily to share information about their rights, important contact numbers, and inform them about the dangers of traffickers,” she added. “What I do is simply be with them. If my presence helps reassure them that they are not alone, then that’s fine. I have done my part to help.”

A professor at OLLU Worden Schhol of Social Services, Dr. Tony Bobadilla, presented a Power Point with definitions of “asylum seeker,” “refugee,” and “immigrant,” and video clips of projects such as these, that extend throughout the world. “Many times, the terms are transposed. This day of service was a good opportunity to be able to define the terms for those who are helping with this project,” he added. “Again, the aim is to provide a service for those in need, but also to learn about who we are helping through this service.”

In the words of Blessed John Martin Moye, the founder of the Sisters of Divine Providence, “The Gospel observes that Jesus Christ began to do and to teach, which means that He started to preach by example and then by word; He began by practicing Himself what He would teach others.” We hold those words true to this endeavor, for it is much more than a labor of love.

by Ana María De La Portilla, Ph.D., Director, Office of Associates

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