First, you should know that I don’t want to make this about me. This is a grassroots movement by individuals, helping other individuals. Still, I think it’s important that you know the face behind the work.

I’m a real person who gets the struggle of donating “just $10.”

I get it when people say, “I just don’t have any spare time.”

So before I tell you about the great need and injustice of our country and day, you need to know that if I can do something, you can too.

I grew up incredibly poor.

Like frequently, wouldn’t have electricity poor.

I would save school lunches so my little sister could eat poor.

I squatted in a house without electricity poor.

I used used a cooler as a refrigerator poor.

At one point we lived in another family’s trailer behind their house. I remember some of the kids at school would make fun of me, taunting, “Haha, you live in a box.”

I would come home from school, stare at myself in the mirror and say, “This is not your life. This is not who you are.” From a young age, I believed that my life didn’t have to stay in a linear line of poverty. I knew I was capable. I understood the power of communication.

I understood and have witnessed how poverty can crush people and knew that just wasn’t my life. More than that, I knew I had to make life better for others going through similar (and worse) struggles. Enter Manos a Manos: Helping Hands Across the Border.

At first, this charity didn’t have a name.

I was sitting in my room after finishing the season finale of Orange is The New Black. I was reading an article about how OITNB featured an immigrant hotline that offered legal counsel, as immigrants in detention facilities have little to no access to legal aid in any form. I read on to find that, in real life, two weeks after the premier – ICE shut the hotline down. I knew I had to do something.

I wanted to go directly to the people staying at these facilities, to offer them phone cards myself. I thought, “Maybe I could give them numbers to immigration lawyers; that could at least help some people.” But, after reading more articles, I quickly found out that the public wasn’t even allowed to offer basic necessities. People who were showing up to help were being turned away.

From there, I started looking into how asylum works. I learned how asylum seekers were awaiting trial in Mexicali, separated from loved ones. So then I thought, “Okay, then reach out to charities on this side of the border.” I was immediately stunned to find there was only one in Calexico. Only one outreach program to serve hundreds of people awaiting trial from across the border.

I called a well-known outreach program, but they only serviced Tijuana, which was hundreds of miles away – so I decided to just go to Mexicali myself.

I harassed all my friends for clothes or items they didn’t need. I even asked my dentist to help and Dr. Lagos donated boxes of toothbrushes.

I chose a date, and I called every shelter in the area I could find – trying to find one that would allow help. I needed to find a shelter that would allow me to personally deliver the food and basic necessities to the asylum seekers.

When I finally found one, I scheduled my first supply drop-off in September of 2019. I was not ready for what I ended up seeing. It was truly overwhelming. One woman asked who I came with. She kept mentioning a charity in Calexico – and after I told her that I just came by myself, she was shocked.

She told us that people forget about them.

How could people forget about thousands of families at the border? They’re people! Humans. This was (and still is!) just unacceptable on every level.

That’s when I cemented my decision to try to make this bigger than just a one-woman operation. With the help of family, friends, friends of friends and the overall desert community, we raised another $500 through a benefit concert in December of 2019 at The Hood in Palm Desert.

Since then, I (along with the help of many friends, acquaintances and other caring people!) have raised and donated over $1,200 worth of money and desperately-needed supplies. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if it wasn’t for these donations, the people receiving from them may not have adequate food or clothing otherwise. This is how dire and immediate the need is.

I’m only one person, and that can only go so far for the thousands of people in need, awaiting and hoping for asylum at the U.S./Mexico border.

I’m in college full-time, I work near full-time, and I take care of my little sister as her sole guardian. I use any and all free time and money I have to do what I can, but one person can only do so much.

This is where you come in. By donating your time, skills, money and/or necessary items, you can make a world of difference in the lives of individuals and families seeking asylum.

Here are some immediate needs of the individuals and families staying at the shelter:

  • Medical care (bilingual in Spanish, preferably)
  • Dental and vision care (bilingual in Spanish, preferably)
  • Legal counsel (bilingual in Spanish, preferably)
  • Cell phones and calling cards
  • Mobile batteries (to charge said cell phones)
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Clothing (including business casual clothing for court appearances)
  • Outerwear (not for snow, but it gets very cold in the desert)
  • Blankets & pillows
  • Shoes (layerable for all seasons and conditions, as many are in transition)
  • Wool socks (as they’re water and weather resistant)
  • Backpacks
  • Sterno cans, camping stoves and/or backpacking stoves, and fuel
  • Sleeping bags and tents (for when they are in transition)
  • Personal hygiene items (i.e. shampoo, soap, hair brushes, shower wipes)

Other items that are greatly appreciated are anything to lighten up the lives of these individuals and families – like toys for the kids, electronics for the teenagers, and any kind of comfort items for the adults (i.e. coffee, hand warmers, portable lights, etc).

We know that these individuals and families will only be at the shelter temporarily – so in donating, consider items that are portable, and that can be helpful for those living without consistent access to shelter.

Interested in donating your time and skills? Reach out to me at talithachernick1@gmail.com and we’ll work something out.

Monetary donations are always appreciated. You can donate online for general contributions via PayPal here.

If you want to stay up-to-date on what Manos a Manos is doing, and how you can help, be sure to subscribe to our e-mail list and follow our page on Facebook.

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