MCALLEN, TEXAS - As many gather with loved ones under a roof to enjoy food and give thanks for their blessings, there are those less fortunate who, through the charitable actions of others, are discovering the meaning of Thanksgiving in America for the very first time.
For more than three years, the doors of a Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas have remained open, sheltering hundreds of thousands of Central American families fleeing violence in their countries.
After weeks of travel, an average of 300 people a day are clothed and fed by volunteers who help keep the wheels turning.
Retiree Bernie Kramer is known as a "Winter Texan." He leaves his home in Iowa when the temperatures drop to enjoy the warm South Texas weather. But recently, much of his free time is spent helping others.
“We’re very hopeful that someday they can enjoy better things like we do now,” he said. “We’re a product of the great depression and so we have come a long way in our lifetime. And hopefully these people will be able to do that in their lifetime.”
Mothers like Maria Ruiz are the ones receiving that help. Ruiz left Guatemala with fears that she or her daughter could be raped by gangs.
“It’s a very difficult journey,” Ruiz said. “Sometimes we wouldn’t eat and other times all we had was water. So I thank God for the volunteers who have cared for us.”
Sister Norma Pimentel runs the shelter. She’s attends to the families every day.
“Thank you, God, right? Because I’m blessed, for you’ve given me what I have and I can share some of that blessing with someone that needs it," Sister Pimentel said. "It definitely is a beautiful way to express Thanksgiving to that."
In fact, three undocumented teens who were staying at the shelter decided to pitch in.
They say that helping out distracts them, keeping their minds busy. And they feel good doing it.
When KENS 5 explained to them the Thanksgiving holiday and what it means, they liked the idea. They even said that they would like to incorporate the tradition now that they've made it to the United States.
The contributions of donors and volunteers do not stop there. Plans are underway to move the shelter to a permanent location across the street. It’s an estimated $2 million project that church leaders hope to fund with donations and the service of volunteers.
(© 2016 KENS)