Border relief efforts continue Welfare: Volunteers provide food for needy Mexican families. - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Border relief efforts continue Welfare: Volunteers provide food for needy Mexican families.

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Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2002 12:00 am

By LEAH HAVERHALS

Valley Morning Star

Roberto Rodriguez and Chuck Hurman make a familiar journey three times a week.

On Tuesdays, the journey takes them to Matamoros. Thursdays and Saturdays,

they travel to Reynosa. About once a month, they make it to Nuevo Progreso.

These trips are to provide food for hundreds of needy Mexican families.

The two men work with Frank Ferree Border Relief, an all-volunteer agency

started years ago by famed Border Angel Frank Ferree, who dedicated his life

to helping the less fortunate in poor areas along Mexicos northern border

across from the Rio Grande Valley.

Ferree worked up until his death in 1983 at age 89, traveling to Mexico about

four times a week to provide food and other necessities to the needy.

Rodriguez is manager of the program now, and Chuck Hurman and his wife Diane

have been involved since 1985. Julia de Barba and Rodriguezs wife Guadalupe

Garcia-Rodriguez also assist with the efforts.

The journey to bring relief across the border is more than a three-day

commitment. Rodriguez and Chuck Hurman make daily stops to pick up food. If

they cant, Julia de Barbas husband, Andres, will make the rounds.

The stops involve picking up food from four H-E-B stores, where they receive

day-old bakery products, including birthday cake, donuts, brownies, and

pastries. They also stop daily at Shipley Donuts to collect anything that was

left over from the night before. Mrs. Bairds Bakery in Brownsville also

donates bread.

Diane Hurman noted the importance of keeping up with daily stops to obtain the

food.

Its taken years to get the right amount of food and resources and youve got

to keep it stabilized, she said.

Donations of money from H-E-B help to supply the poor with 4,000 pounds of

rice and/or beans a month.

Obstacles often arise, however, when attempting to make the journeys.

Last Tuesday at the inspection checkpoint in Matamoros, the volunteers were

detained for more than two hours, only to find they had to pay $8 to enter and

would not be allowed to bring the rice and beans across the border.

They then had to return the beans and rice to San Benito before bringing food

to the people, who had already been standing in the sweltering sun for hours.

Also, due to stricter border laws, they now must use a smaller cargo van to

transport food, instead of the larger truck they used in the past.

By the time the van arrived after 3 p.m. Tuesday, around 300 families were

waiting, including many who were elderly or disabled.

To ensure order each family in line gets a number. Children wait in their own

line with small sacks in order to receive a donut or pastry.

Most families that seek relief are the same ones that have been coming for

years, and a lot of the families grow up in poverty and without an education,

the relief workers say.

Representatives on the Mexican side of the border are vital to guaranteeing a

smooth operation and deterring problems.

Each trip is a challenge, Diane Hurman said. It bothers me to no end that

these people have to wait in the sun.

Along with the challenges come the rewards though, which are evident through

the smiles on the faces of the gracious people receiving the food and the

appreciation the volunteers feel.

The program operates on about $2,000 a month from private donations.

One family can hardly live on $24,000 a year, but we are taking care of all

this property, these two families, and thousands in Mexico, Diane Hurman said

with a laugh. It is a stretch.

In his will, Ferree made it clear he wanted Rodriguez and Julia de Barba to

have a place to live as long as the relief program had the means to do so.

Growing up in Matamoros with 15 brothers and sisters, Julia de Barba was about

11 years old when Ferree brought her across the border. She has lived in the

Ferree home ever since.

Rodriguez was from Reynosa and often helped Ferree when he brought relief to

the poor. An only child, Ferree brought him to Harlingen at 19.

Though Ferree never married, he left the relief agency as his legacy.

This just became his family, Diane Hurman said.

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