McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Hundreds of grandmas who are members of Grannies Respond are being asked to buy second-hand winter coats at thrift shops nationwide and send them to a Brownsville nonprofit that is helping migrants on the South Texas border.
Catherine Cole, executive director of the New York-based group Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden, told Border Report they launched the coat drive after visiting the Rio Grande Valley in October and meeting with officials with Team Brownsville, who told them they need heavier winter coats to give to migrants who are traveling north after being legally released by the Department of Homeland Security.
“You never know how many coats they’re gonna get but I’m hopeful that if I spread the news, far and wide, we’ll get a good array of coats. And we’re doing used coats, because, unfortunately, the dollars will go much further than new new coats. And probably better quality for the money,” Cole told Border Report on Monday.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Grannies Respond asked members to buy coats from thrift stores and send them to Team Brownsville, which helps migrants on the border in Brownsville, Texas.
“*URGENT COAT DRIVE!!* Team Brownsville needs coats for asylum-seekers traveling north from the border! We need people to go to local thrift stores and buy up mens and women’s size S and M winter coats and ship them to the border,” the Facebook post read.
A third-party organization, Give Back Box, will help mail it for a reduced cost. They charge $20 for a shipping label to send up to 70 pounds of clothing to its partner nonprofits, like Team Brownsville. A shipping label can be purchased here at this link.
Cole says they are reimbursing members for the coat purchases, and she urges them to scour all second-hand stores wherever they live.
In the New York City area alone, the group has about 1,200 members, and Cole says they have members in cities throughout the country. The group is especially active in New York, where thousands of asylum-seekers have been bused to from Texas by Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star. Cole says they plan “welcoming rallies” and work with other nonprofits to supply backpacks and other items for the newcomers.
“These people are going to be quite cold. And I’m hoping that the scouts that are reaching out to me can find some nice, warm toasty coats for these people,” Cole told Border Report.
Team Brownsville volunteers tell Border Report that they welcome the help because it’s hard to find hardy winter coats in South Texas, where the temperatures are much more often in the triple digits and hardly ever get below freezing.
“The grannies are collecting on our behalf. They’re collecting, they’re collaborating with us,” Team Brownsville volunteer coordinator Andrea Rudnik said.
The coat drive was born after a group of Grannies Respond, including Cole, visited Team Brownsville about a month ago at the Welcome Center in downtown Brownsville. Rudnik said the group offered to make a donation, but she urged them to go thrift store searching and to send coats, instead.
“I said you can take your money, and you can triple it, quadruple its value by going into some of those thrift shops and picking out some nice jackets that we can give out to people that are going to Chicago and New York and Denver — places where it’s really freezing cold. That’s what we want to do. We want to have people prepared for what they’re going to encounter when they get to their new home,” Rudnik said.
The coat drive just launched so the boxes have yet to come in, but Team Brownsville board member Kathy Harrington said that if they get enough supplies then they will send extras south of the border to migrants waiting alongside the Rio Grande in a river encampment and to others at a shelter that has been transformed from what once was a hospital.
“It depends on how many we get. And the biggest thing is when people are leaving here and going to New York, Minnesota, Montana, wherever, Chicago, they need warm clothes and they just don’t have any, and a sweatshirt is not going to do. So that’s who our main target is. But we also take them to kids across the river if we have extra,” Harrington told Border Report.
A wet and cold weather system has dropped inches of rain practically nonstop since Friday on the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico, with temperatures in the 60s — which is a big drop from the 90s last week.
“It’s very very wet, and it’s very very cold for them right now,” Harrington said.
Over 1,000 asylum-seekers are living at a renovated hospital compound in Matamoros, Mexico, about a 10-minute drive from the border that has been converted to a sea of tents for the migrants.
Rudnik says only a couple hundred migrants remain at the muddy encampment on the Rio Grande in Matamoros, where thousands once lived.
The organization is planning on sending a large load of supplies soon including heavier blankets, hats, tents tarps and other winter supplies.
“The colder weather is already upon us, even if it’s only rain here in colder weather. So we’re already planning to take a large shipment of sleeping bags of blankets of socks, the kinds of things that people will need in colder weather,” she said.
A full list of donation items needed by Team Brownsville can be found at this link.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.