Reaching out to those in need at the border |

Reaching out to those in need at the border

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There are refugee crises scattered across the globe, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced by war, religious persecution and now a growing climate catastrophe.

But just south of the U.S. border there are reportedly thousands of immigrant children under the age of 18 in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. This has weighed heavily on Nevada City resident Patricia Smith, who finally decided to take action.

“All I’d been doing was getting on Facebook and talking about what a travesty this is,” she said. “It was time to do something.”

Smith said she was inspired by several Nevada County groups and individuals who have made trips to the border to provide medical and legal services to immigrants through a group called Al Otro Lado. Others have worked at the nonprofit World Central Kitchen making food for immigrants living in shelters as they wait for their number to be called to cross over the border — or awaiting U.S. court dates in Mexico. One such group, the Peace and Justice Center of Nevada County, raised more than $5,000 in 2019 and sponsored two trips to the border. The money was primarily used to purchase food for immigrants with remaining funds going toward much-needed blankets, jackets, luggage, clothes and other necessities. But in her research, Smith noticed a glaring need along the border — toiletries.

“I read that people often go weeks without being able to bathe, and without basic personal supplies,” she said. “Toiletries have been overlooked when it comes to donations. I’m targeting people south of the border who are waiting to be processed. I’m sure they experience long hours of boredom with nothing to do but wait.”

Comfort packages

Smith began putting the word out in the community and among colleagues and friends, in search of donated supplies for her “comfort packages,” which include toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, deodorant, razors and more, totaling 10 to 12 items each. She also assembled bags for children, which contained educational toys, puzzles and books in Spanish. Each bag costs about $10.

Smith’s plea for donations clearly seemed to resonate, as she has now raised more than $10,000, with more coming in. In November, a member of the Peace and Justice Center of Nevada County took 200 of Smith’s comfort packages down to the border, which were well received.

On Sunday morning, just before the dawn of a new year, a large truck with 500 more bags headed south. Smith said she now has enough supplies for an additional 500 bags at her home, which didn’t fit into the truck for this trip. She hopes to return to the border a few months from now.

“In November, Lorraine said the first bag was given to a 7-year-old boy, who had the biggest smile,” said Smith. “It was his birthday. Some of the stories we’re hearing are heartbreaking. I hope this makes a difference, but I know this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to what’s needed.

“There’s not a lot we can do directly to help in faraway places like the Syrian refugee crisis — but I can do something closer to home,” Smith added. “At least I know these supplies are going directly into the hands of those who desperately need them. I’m always for the underdog in any instance. This project has become much bigger than I ever imagined. There are so many good-hearted people in Nevada County — it keeps me going.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email or call 530-477-4203.

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