Mexico's Ciudad Juarez is making headlines in regards to the rash of drug-related crime and killings there, but the story of the city's widows and orphans often goes untold.
Collegedale's Maria Mendez travels there often to help women and children in need, and will be at the local Imagination Station pavilion May 14 and 21 from 6-9 p.m. accepting donations of clothing, school supplies, book bags, toys and shoes to take on her next trip this June.
"Eight thousand, five hundred newly orphaned children in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across from El Paso, Texas, have suffered terrible loss of their parents and homes and hope as a result of the drug war," said Mendez. "We would like people to help us collect items to take to them. I pray that people will want to come and help. I want to bring attention to what is going on. I want somebody to do something to help them."
Her friend Marion Merchant and granddaughters Jasmine and Gracie, who are both fifth-grade students at Spalding Elementary School in Collegedale, join her on her annual trips.
Mendez said she went to live near Ciudad Juarez for 16 months from 2005-2006 in order to feed children and distribute school supplies on a regular basis. She also visited the city in 2002 and 2003 to help people.
"The children have no coats in winter," said Mendez, who is in the midst of packing 40 boxes of donations to take to the town's people. "The children use shopping bags to go to school instead of book bags. I've given out shampoo, soap, clothes and book bags. The children have no heat and no running water. Ladies are living in raggedy clothes and asking their neighbors for food."
She said a group of youth is trying to help her organize a food bank for Ciudad Juarez.
"Juarez is across from El Paso with all this luxury, and on the other side people are hungry," said Mendez.
She said she helped one girl with dark skin by giving her soap and shampoo. Later that day, when the same girl came up to her and thanked her for the items, Mendez said she could not believe it was her because the girl's skin was actually pale when washed.
"I am blessed to have a job, food and clothes, and I want to spend time helping people in need," said Mendez. "Volunteers receive hugs and kisses from the people of Juarez for helping them."
She said people live primitively, with sheets or plastic bags covering doorways and a hole in the ground serving as a toilet. She said diapers are hard to come by for parents. In fact, sometimes families wash out diapers, hang them up to dry and reuse them.
"You see the children wandering around," said Mendez. "We need programs to get the Juarez orphans off the street and to take them to school. The people there need to be able to make money for their families. We take the Bible and literature to them."