An exhausted one-year-old sleeps soundly, armed wrapped around a stuffed animal. The boy is resting at a transit shelter in New Mexico. Today, families who have been released from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol are able to receive food, water and clothing as well as other donated supplies, including children’s stuffed animals, in transit shelters where Save the Children is working. Photo credit: R. Masseo Davis/Save the Children.

U.S. Border Crisis Children's Relief Fund
We urgently need your help to reach every last child in need. A donation to our U.S. Border Crisis Children’s Relief Fund will support our programmatic and advocacy work at the border and ensure that children at the border are being treated with care and kindness. Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams / Save the Children.

“Thank you for bringing comfort and joy to kids affected by the border crisis”: An Emergency Responder Shares Her Story

Every day, children and families being released by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol at the southern U.S. Border arrive at a local transit shelter in Deming, New Mexico. Some families have walked for 20 days straight, guided through a harrowing journey by the overwhelming desire to escape violence and poverty in their homeland. Mothers have carried their babies in their arms for miles on end. Fathers have been separated from their spouses and children along the way.

The Deming shelter is filled wall to wall with cots and caring people, including trained staff from Save the Children, who are there to greet children and families with kindness and care.

Upon arriving at the shelter, children are immediately handed a plush toy animal.  The toy is a comfort item, soft and clean and ready to be loved. It is also the first item the children can call their own again. If a special toy or blanket, tucked inside a tiny pocket, managed to survive the long and dangerous journey, it was taken away by U.S Customs and Border Protection agents at the border.  

Naturally, the children cling to these new, plush animals throughout their stay in the shelter. They name the stuffed animals, carry them around the shelter and tuck them in at night. 

Jessica Lach is a Save the Children Action Network staffer who spent nearly three weeks working with children and families in New Mexico. The stuffed toys, it turns out, have a special place in her heart as well. Here is her story. 

Stuffed Sharks Bringing Joy at the Border

Written by Jessica Lach, Digital Campaign Manager at Save the Children Action Network
 

The reality of the situation at the southern border is hard to accept. In fact, sometimes it feels too complicated to understand, let alone work in. Despite all that’s happening, the opportunity to deploy from our nation’s capital as an emergency responder to a transit shelter in Deming, New Mexico where Save the Children has set up child-friendly spaces was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Every day served as a reminder that the work we do for children makes an incredible difference and changes lives as a result.

During the 19 days I spent in New Mexico, one of my team’s responsibilities for was sorting and inventorying boxes of gift-in-kind items. Imagine our surprise when, in a landlocked state, we unboxed large 2.5-foot stuffed sharks. We didn’t know how the children would respond.

Pushing our initial thoughts aside, we happily unloaded, counted, and helped hospitality shelters distribute the massive sharks – standing taller than most 3-and 4-year olds that we were serving with our child-centric programs.

Yet, we didn’t fully grasp the power a simple stuffed shark contained. As I write this, tears start drifting to my eyes as I remember first seeing the sharks’ debut into the hospitality shelters.

Photo credit: R. Masseo Davis/Save the Children

 

The kids’ eyes grew two sizes larger seeing these sharks. They became the local celebrities of the shelters. The kids carried the sharks by the flipper behind them and chased their new friends around the shelter with them. The oversized cots all of sudden looked cozy as the kids held the sharks next to them as they slept and made sure to tuck their shark in for bed. The sharks ended up making the best pillows – a new friend and comfort for each and every child.

Most of the families Save the Children served in New Mexico are seeking asylum in the U.S. They would stop at the humanitarian hospitality shelters on their way to their sponsor’s home, which could be located anywhere inside the United States. Every day, we’d watch families come and go, hopping on buses, waving goodbye as they were off to their new destinations – via bus or plane, another step in an incredibly long and difficult journey.

Fast forward to my way to the airport to head back to D.C. I realized I hadn’t yet stopped to fully comprehend the impact of our work. It wasn’t until I was standing in the security line that it finally came to me. I looked around at those going through the line with me and out of the blue, I saw one stuffed shark bob its head through the line. And then another. And then another.

I picked up my bag after it made its way through the x-ray machine and saw yet another stuffed shark, held by the fin, as it was dragged to an airport gate – on its way to its new sponsor home with a child. I saw a family of four, now six with two big fuzzy gray and white sharks!

Right then, right there, it hit me. The work we do is so important. The spreadsheets, the donor relations, the articles, the meetings, and even the most miscellaneous of tasks lead to that moment there in the airport. Thank you for bringing comfort and joy to kids affected by the border crisis in the form of…SHARKS!

By donating to Save the Children’s U.S. Border Crisis Children’s Relief Fund, you can help ensure children at the border are being treated with care and kindness. Additionally, you can donate supplies, including stuffed animals, clothing, diapers and toiletries, directly to children and families at the border. Because changing a life lasts a lifetime.

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