Their hands full of teddy bears, blankets and Disney books, young people filled backpacks Monday in Fife destined for Central American children arriving unaccompanied at the United States-Mexico border.
In a half hour, 30 volunteers in assembly-like style stuffed 200 backpacks at World Vision’s Pacific Northwest Storehouse.
The backpacks will be trucked this week to the Christian humanitarian agency’s storehouse in North Texas, near Dallas, adding to its supplies for children from Central America.
The supplies packed Monday will go to children who will be housed by the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, a partner with World Vision, said Johnny Cruz, a spokesman for Federal Way-based World Vision. The coalition plans to provide temporary housing for migrant children at 13 U.S. centers. World Vision doesn’t know yet which center will receive Monday’s supplies, Cruz said.
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World Vision is increasing its efforts in the United States and abroad to assist minors who arrive unaccompanied from Central America, a crisis that has embroiled political leaders in Washington, D.C., and could soon reach the Tacoma area.
An announcement is pending on whether Joint Base Lewis-McChord will house up to 600 children in empty barracks on base. Three other American military bases are already hosting some children.
It’s not clear how World Vision would respond in the event of children being sent to JBLM.
“I don’t think we know yet,” Cruz said.
The White House said Monday that the number of children crossing the border has declined to about 150 a day in the first two weeks of July, down from an average of 355 per day in June.
President Barack Obama plans to meet Friday with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, three countries that are home to many of the children. The U.S. has been urging their governments to help stem the exodus of children.
The youth volunteers in Fife were from a community group called Our Future Matters, as well as children and friends of World Vision employees.
Tacoma sixth-grader Haley Mounsey volunteered Monday, instead of going to summer camp.
“I like helping kids that need help all around the world ,” said Haley, whose mom, Jennifer Mounsey, works for World Vision.
Haley said “it makes me feel really happy inside that I can help” kids in need.
A.J. Sailiai, 16, was one of seven high school youths lending a hand from Our Future Matters, from the White Center-Burien area.
“It feels great,” said A.J., who filled 10 backpacks. “I know there’s somebody we just helped putting together a backpack.”
“It also feels great because we wanted to be here,” said A.J., a high school junior. “We’re not forced to be here.”
The volunteers, from 4 to 18 years old, packed the backpacks with toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, crayons, colored pencils and erasers. They also picked from a range of Spanish-language coloring, activity and story books, including Disney books on Cars, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean and princesses. Teen story books also were among the choices from the storehouse’s supplies.
For a finishing, personal touch, the volunteers wrote notes in Spanish, choosing from greetings posted on a board in English and Spanish:
• “We hope this bag brings you some peace and comfort.”
• “We want you to know that we care about you and your well being.”
• “We will continue to pray for you.”
In less than an hour, the so-called “promise packs” were boxed and loaded on a pallet board.
“That was fantastic,” storehouse volunteer coordinator Jim Peterson told the volunteers. Because of their efforts, about 200 children will get help, he said.
On most days, the main work at the 40,000-square-foot warehouse is to give out school supplies to teachers and distribute food, clothing and building materials to nonprofit organizations that pay a fee.
World Vision is working with partners at locations in the United States to provide supplies for unaccompanied children from Central America and the centers that will house them.
In Honduras, World Vision is leading efforts to support children who have been deported from the U.S. and will be arriving back in their home country.
The Fife facility is one of five World Vision storehouses in the U.S. It’s the first so far to provide supplies to help the North Texas storehouse.
Fife site manager Reed Slattery said the storehouse was responding to a request from the North Texas facility. The Fife operation probably will provide more supplies for Central American children once they arrive in the United States, Slattery said.
Ten-year-old Hannah Gervais, a Federal Way fifth-grader, said she was glad to help out while her mom, Karen Gervais, worked at the warehouse.
“It’s exciting to get it done and knowing it’s going to get to them really soon,” Hannah said.