Dominican Sisters of Peace: ‘A Day in the Life on the Border’

Sr. Norah Guy, Associate Joanna Magee, & Sr. Joye Gros making one of many meals in a refugee center in El Paso, TX.

By Sister Joye Gros, O.P.

El Paso, TX – The day begins when we learn at 10:30 PM that we are to prepare lunch for 150 the next day. We did not know what food we had in stock in the kitchen, so we had to go early to pick up keys, take an inventory, go shopping and begin the meal. Since we cooked in one location and needed to transport everything across town, we had to do some other time-consuming things, such as turn on the gas for the stove (which frightened both of us), line the trunk of the car to protect it from pasta sauce, etc.

We put the water on to boil. You know what they say about a watched pot! We chopped veggies by the dozens, assembled five huge containers of salad, mixed garlic butter and grilled buns, and made five huge containers of pasta with sauce. Since the pans we had were aluminum, we had to double stack them to protect from heat and spilling. It served as little protection. We wondered – will it be enough? Will everyone like it?

When we first arrived I had wished I could speak Spanish. Now, I wished I could cook massive amounts of Italian food!

We made it to the serving location by 12:30 and created an assembly line in a very tight space. Most of our guests had to eat on the floor in the hall, but the looks of anticipation and the expressions of gratitude eased our concerns.

After the meal, Norah and I took all the pans and utensils back to the kitchen across town to clean. Now, we’re talking 10 pans for pasta, five pans for salad, three pans for garlic buns – not to mention the grill, cooking pots, cutting boards… and then we had the stove, counter, trash and floor to clean up!

With one meal done, we sat down to make dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the ‘go bags.’ Each family gets a bag with food for the journey when they depart to travel to their sponsor. They are filled according to the means of transportation (bus or plane), the number of people in the family and the length of the journey. If there is a child in the family, we also pack a toy and a soft lap blanket.

Home at last… 12-hour shift. Our clothing wears pasta sauce and peanut butter. But we came to serve. We came to be useful.

These days have been a rollercoaster of emotions. We’ve been frantic. We’ve been hysterical with laughter. We’ve been tired. We’ve been tearful when we heard “Muchas Gracias” and when we saw parents’ tenderness toward their children, their care for one another, and the looks of relief, hope, and gratitude.

As we struggle to make do, I recall the story of the loaves and fishes; as we bemoan the inadequacy of our skills, the instruction to put out deeper… and as the dishes pile high, the commission to feed my sheep, if only peanut butter!