It’s the day we’ve been waiting for. We wake early: breakfast, check out of our hotel, and store our luggage. No one can think of anything but the task ahead.
The American team has already left Tucson. They cross the border by foot and join us on the bus bound for the Nogales Rotary Club House. The lines were deep by the time we arrive. Recipients have been lining up since 3 a.m. The line goes down the street, winds around an empty piece of land next to the club, and further down the block. An endless sea of need, punctuated with bursts of music, dancing, and the occasional announcement.
Now in its 16th year, we have learned a lot about the best way to
manage the 3,000 or more people who will come through. The Bomberos have helped in various capacities in the past, but are especially welcome this year. Generally the Rotaracts manage the crowds but they are away running their own project this year. One of many spinoffs that have come about because of the simple idea of giving gifts to children. Care is taken to alleviate the wait for those with mobility issues and the elderly. They separate those without tickets quickly but still these people wait patiently hoping that there will be something left.
Tables are set up outside of the clubhouse to hold groceries and blankets for those unable to negotiate the deep stairs into the clubhouse. They also hold extra blankets for those who have come simply seeking a blanket. The blankets have been donated by the State of Soriana, supplemented by Tucson and Canadian Rotarians.
A limited number of people can enter the club compound at a time. Here is where the children will come for a small gift or a coat. Many can barely contain themselves long enough to get out of the clubhouse; arms are flung into coat sleeves, gifts are hastily unwrapped.
Those with grocery tickets are directed to the truck park alongside the club house. The truck has been provided by La Tienda Soriana and holds all the groceries we will distribute today. Each eligible recipient will receive two weeks’ worth of staples; beans, rice, oatmeal, milk, cookies, pasta, cornmeal, flour, tuna, tomato paste, lard, and soup base. Tickets are collected at each stage of the process.
Over the course of the day, 851 bags of groceries, 1,108 blankets, 302 coats, 796 gift packages, 150 balls, and 102 matchbox toys are given out. Assorted mitts, hats, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are available to the families as well.
Though people are incredibly happy and grateful, there are difficult moments too.
My Spanish is not great, but even I can understand the heartbreak of a mother with only a grocery ticket, begging for a toy for her child, and us having none to give. We monitor our inventory right down to the last blanket to ensure we are not promising anything to people that we cannot deliver (our only flexibility is toys so that we can ensure the item is age and gender appropriate). We know that when we no longer have tickets, it means that all the items have been promised to someone.
In the days leading up to today, I have nightmares about accidentally giving out more tickets than we have items. It’s a system, and any system has its shortcomings. We try to keep accurate records of the previous year as a guide, but it doesn’t always work. Nogales is a community of people who change over time. Some years we will see a surge of infants, other years hardly any. It is difficult to truly prepare for this.
As the day winds down, and the stacked supply tables slowly recede, I see the proud faces of the 7 and 10 year old daughters of the Nogales Club President. They often help us prepare. This year they brought their own toys to give to the children in line. The girls realize the importance of helping others in their community. The importance of ‘service above self”.
In three hours over 3000 people have been through the lines. A few bags of groceries, some blankets, and coats are all that remain at the end of the day. The Bomberos pack them up and take them to the families who live along the dump.
My Rotary colleagues and I are all exhausted but happy. We go through ceremonies to thank all those organizations who contributed, to receive official greetings, and then to share food. Very quickly the day ends, we disperse to return to own countries, our ‘normal’ lives.
For me, I will take a day to reflect; on the day, the experience, the people of Nogales. I will turn it over in my mind. What can be done differently? What can be done better? What should we stop doing to focus on other things? More importantly, how can we raise more in the coming year to help even more people?
But those are questions for tomorrow. Tonight I will sit down with my American friends and enjoy the feeling of knowing that 3000 families will go to bed tonight with a full stomach, and a warm blanket. We are committed to continue to return to address the needs of the family and those Bomberos working so hard to keep them safe.
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Nogales Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener