Heart to Heart International, a humanitarian organization based in Lenexa, has just returned from the U.S.-Mexico border after delivering hygiene kits and blankets to migrant families seeking asylum. What the organization staff saw there shocked them — so they’re going back with more supplies.
Earlier this year, Heart to Heart International had sent 15,000 hygiene kits as well as several packages of blankets and medications to their partner organizations, Save the Children and Catholic Charities. Those organizations have been distributing the supplies to migrants who have a legal, asylum-seeking claim.
These asylum seekers have been staying in respite, transit and hospitality centers on the American side of the border.
For the first time, Heart to Heart International visited the border earlier this month to assess the need. Joan Kelly, disaster response team manager, said she and Heather Lee, director of disaster response, saw firsthand the need and impact of the organization’s deliveries caused by the outpouring of support from the Kansas City community.
“To put in perspective, Heather is a retired member of the military, flew Black Hawk helicopters, has seen a lot, and I just moved back from Syria where I was doing humanitarian aid,” Kelly said. “So we’ve seen high need across the world. And it’s not common that I am surprised or caught off guard, but there was substantial need here. I was surprised.”
Kelly said she met one 7-year-old boy from Honduras who had traveled with his family for 20 days to get to the border, including 45 hours in the back of a semi truck with 160 other people — without food, water or light. By the time he arrived, he was dehydrated, had the flu and hadn’t eaten in five days.
“They don’t have shoelaces, they probably haven’t showered since they’d been taken into custody by Customs and Border Patrol,” Kelly said. “Simply put, this is sometimes the first time that they’ve had the opportunity to have basic needs met.”
The kits include basic hygiene items such as toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, towel, shampoo and a plastic bag to carry things.
“I know for a fact that when we walked into these centers, they were very, very grateful,” Kelly said, “because truly, this is the first time they’ve been given something that they can hold onto. There was a lot of ‘this is for me?’ There’s been a lot of folks that it’s been a long time since they have been able to be taken care of. We’re just trying to help them on their journey to be reunited with families or their sponsors here in the U.S.”
Kelly said Heart to Heart International needs more funding — not donated items. Monetary donations allow the organization to purchase items in bulk, ensuring cost efficiency and quality control: Uniform delivery of support and clean, sterile supplies.
Heart to Heart International also hosts events when volunteers can help build the hygiene kits and package them up for delivery to the border. Amy Lafferty, communications coordinator for Heart to Heart, said they put the call out two days before their packaging event July 18, and at least 40 people, including children, showed up in the middle of the workday to help.
During that event, the volunteers prepared 1,000 hygiene kits. To put the need in perspective, their partner organizations see that many asylum seekers in one day, Kelly said.
“In one day, we could give out all of those kits,” she added. “So the need is so substantial.”