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Buckner Connects Relief Teams to Hurricane Victims in the Valley

Help Still Needed for Border, Guatemala Relief Efforts

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(RIO GRANDE VALLEY) —The day after Hurricane Dolly struck the Gulf Coast, hundreds of people in the Rio Grande Valley moved into tents on the side of the road.

But few others seem to know about it.

“The media will cover some areas,” said Jorge Zapata, director of the Buckner colonia program, “but look around here (Green Valley colonia in San Benito). No one covers this and no one has done anything to pump out the water. Children used to play outside here in the streets. Now it’s a health hazard.”

Although many are unaware, others are teaming up to help those in need.

Buckner International has joined with Texas Baptist Men, Red Cross, a number of local churches, the military and Texas A&M University to bring food and water to those who lost everything. The food donations, which came from the Red Cross, were distributed in stations across the Valley.

“We have been serving 54,000 meals and bottles of water a day since last Wednesday,” said Cliff Spencer with the Red Cross. “By partnering with Buckner we were able to help make sure that these people weren’t forgotten. We were able to find where there was the most need.”

Buckner has been involved in colonia ministry since 2002, providing humanitarian aid and conducting construction programs with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other groups.

“Our staff knows the people,” Zapata said. “We have helped them in so many different situations and we know where they are. We also know that we can count on them for volunteer support when we need it, which is why so many people here are helping each other and volunteering time despite their own need.”

The floods caused by Hurricane Dolly brought an infestation of mosquitoes to a large part of the Rio Grande Valley. Many people can’t find refuge from the mosquitoes because they have nowhere to go, Zapata said. Babies and children in the area are covered in bites.

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“Homeless,” Zapata said, pointing out a remaining family still taking refuge in a tent one week after the storm. The water surrounding them was yellow and smelled like rot. Three half-starved dogs lay on the ground beside them.

Aurora Gonzalez, an administrative assistant for Buckner, said one of the women under the tent had been volunteering with the relief groups earlier in the week. Her house was beyond repair. And she was crying.

In other parts of the Valley, Zapata said that the colonias are infested with dead fish, frogs and snakes covered in maggots. Septic tanks are overflowing and the cattle are getting ready to die. That can bring a lot of disease and other problems.

“There are also people who are still living in their wet homes, developing sores on their hands and feet from constantly being in water,” said Dora Zamarripa with Americorps VISTA. “Meanwhile, the mold is growing on their walls. They don’t even have cars to go out and buy groceries. And water in the area is unsanitary.

Dora helps run the Texas A&M-supported community center in San Carlos, a colonia in the area hardest hit by the storm.

“The volunteers and I have been opening the door at 8 a.m. and not leaving until 10:30 p.m.,” she said. “Yesterday we kept wanting to close, but people kept knocking on the door and it would break my heart. So we gave them meals until 11:30 p.m.”

Buckner is also providing relief efforts in Guatemala, purchasing rice, beans and flour to make tortillas, as well as diapers and hygiene supplies to serve the people affected by the storm, said Albert Reyes, president of Buckner Children and Family Services.

“Our staff is working closely with government officials at the request of the First Lady of Guatemala to distribute humanitarian aid in badly-damaged areas of the country,” he said.

Roberto Tejada, humanitarian aid coordinator for Buckner in Guatemala, said they delivered the aid to area shelters to help families now homeless due to mudslides in La Union Zacapa.

“In this place, there were about 400 people who were homeless, waiting for a solution to their problem,” he said. “We could see how grateful the people were. Everything that we brought would be useful.”

Reyes said Buckner is relying on churches and individuals to respond the needs of the people in Guatemala and in the Texas and Mexico colonias.

“Buckner responded to the need immediately,” he said. “We’re trusting our ministry partners to come alongside us in Guatemala and in the Valley to support us financially.

“Our churches have been faithful through the years to work alongside Buckner to help so many people in need and we need those partners now more than ever,” he added.

Anyone wishing to donate may do so online at www.buckner.org or by calling the Buckner Foundation at (214) 758-8050.

Read more about what Buckner is doing to help hurricane relief efforts in the Rio Grande Valley.

Click here to make a donation.

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