EL PASO, Texas (BNM) - Five New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers recently served between 3,500 and 4,000 meals to asylum-seekers at a United States Customs and Border Protection release center in El Paso, Texas.

For Kelly Ahrens, one of the five NMBDR volunteers, feeding asylum-seekers is a tangible way for her to practice her Christian faith in action. Ahrens has volunteered with NMBDR since 2011. 

According to Ahrens, NMBDR Associate State Director Ed Greene organized the El Paso deployment. Three volunteers from Albuquerque and one volunteer from Las Cruces joined Ahrens, who is from La Luz. The team deployed on July 7 and returned on July 14.

The deployment came in response to a request by the Salvation Army, which was operating a feeding trailer at the deployment center and needed additional volunteers to help support the operation. In addition to the feeding trailer, the Salvation Army supplied a cook.

During their deployment, the team served upwards of 100 people per meal, and close to 500 people per day, Ahrens estimated. Meals consisted of cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, hamburgers or hot dogs for lunch, and spaghetti and other entrees for dinner, she said. 

Before asylum-seekers left the facility en route to their sponsor locations throughout the United States, they were given nonperishable sack lunches, Ahrens said.

The feeding operation took place at a “release center” housed in a warehouse, which Ahrens said was operated by CBP, and was likely temporary. According to Ahrens, migrants were bussed to the center after being cleared by CBP. She estimated between 40 and 80 asylum-seeking migrants - most of who were in family units - were bussed to the center each day between July 7 and July 14.

Ahrens said that many of the families were from Brazil and Venezuela. The father of one family who had fled violence in Venezuela, was a realtor in the country before leaving to seek asylum in the United States, she said. 

A group of girls who arrived at the center had not eaten in three days prior to their arrival, and others only had crackers and juice, Ahrens said. "You don't know what's real until you see it,” she said, speaking to the ongoing political debate surrounding the migrant crisis.

One NMBDR volunteer, Nancy Banuelos, is a hair stylist by trade. According to Ahrens, during her down time, Banuelos offered free haircuts to migrants. Over the course of three days Ahrens estimated that Banuelos provided close to 90 haircuts.

In response to the ongoing migrant crisis, Daniel Darling, vice president for communications at the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, provided the following statement to the Baptist New Mexican:

"Everybody, on all sides of the aisle, agrees that what is happening at the border is a crisis. And while good Christians might disagree on the exact specific solutions to the migrant crisis, what we should agree on is that every immigrant and every migrant is created in the image of God and deserving of respect and dignity and care. Southern Baptists should urge both parties in Washington D.C. to put aside partisanship and work together on a lasting solution that helps balance the rule of law and caring for the stranger and keeping families together. And we should join our fellow Southern Baptists who are already at the border in providing care and relief. Let's pray for a solution to this crisis."

For Ahrens, participating in the feeding deployment was an easy decision. "We're feeding and taking care of needs, and then sharing Christ. These people are here and they're hungry. It's not a question of whether they should [be here or not]. They're here and we need to take care of needs. With Disaster Relief, I think that's the best way to share Christ - by putting your faith in action," she said.

Daniel Porter is a staff writer with the Baptist New Mexican news journal and GoBNM.com, news and information outlets for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

Media Services Assistant / Staff Writer

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