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Tag Archives: Ysleta Lutheran Mission

Video+Story: Fight Against Hunger Continues, Even During Summer Vacation

I want to share a thought with you. It’s not a warm and fuzzy thought. No. This is the reality of some families within our community.

School is out. Summer vacation is upon us, and kids are running wild. They are playing, dreaming, hoping the summer would last forever. They are also working up an appetite.

The school districts within El Paso provide breakfast and lunch to many kids who would otherwise not have anything to eat. Families depend on these meals, as meager as they are, to help sustain their children. Now that summer is here; they will be missing meals. That shouldn’t happen at all.

Yes, some schools do provide meals throughout the summer. Not all of them, but some of them. For some families, transportation becomes a problem. Lack of transportation can be enough to keep a child from eating. Again, that shouldn’t happen.

Throughout El Paso, there are groups – such as Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care – who provide meals, and food baskets to individuals and families in need. That need is great.

Each Saturday, YLM provides upwards of 300 food baskets to families and individuals in need. Then Monday to Friday there are those who visit the Mission’s hot meal program to eat what may very well be the only meal they have for the day.

Being able to eat, putting food on the table, is a basic human right. It should not be a privilege that can be snatched away like food stamps. We’ve seen the food stamp program be gutted to balance governmental budgets, but that is hurting people, hurting families and children.

That’s where YLM steps in to fill that ever-widening gap.  The way Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care obtains food for distribution is twofold.

The first source of food comes from the El Pasoans Fight Hunger food bank. Each week YLM spends about $200 to purchase food that can be distributed to those in need. The next source is donations of food items. On Friday, if one were to come by the Mission, you would see volunteers working very hard sorting food, and creating the boxes for distribution.

That’s the weekly food giveaway.

Then, Monday to Friday, you have the hot meal program. The food for this is also purchased by the Mission, with occasional donations coming in. The kitchen is open to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. The hot meal program does provide lunch, starting at 11:30, for a very nominal price – only $1.50 a plate.

What monies do come from sales are put right back into the program to help feed those who cannot afford to eat.

In the case of those who simply do not have the money to spare, they still eat. The YLM office provides them with a voucher so that they too can have something for the day.

Now, imagine all of this goes away. Where will those people get that one hot meal? With school being out, the numbers begin to swell. How will they be provided for?

What about the individuals and families who come on Saturday mornings for the food boxes? It is a vital part of their pantry at home. What would happen if they were unable to obtain the extra food to help stretch out what they may already have? How many families, how many children would be affected?

The food programs are not the only thing going at YLM. Each year they distribute backpacks and school supplies to children going back to school. There is the Christmas toy drive. There is also the free medical care they host each Saturday. (Yes, FREE medical care provided by RotoCare.) The clinic is free to anyone and everyone. It is open Saturdays. Doors open at 9 am.

So, how can you help?

You can give the Mission a call at 915-858-2588. Or, if you are in El Paso, you can bring your donations to them at 301 S Schutz Drive, off Alameda. You can also find Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care on Facebook or online.

If you would like to give a cash contribution, you can do that as well. You can click here and select the food program, or any other of their other programs, to support. The donation will be tax deductible.

Let’s remember that El Paso is one community. When one person suffers, we all suffer. You never know, the person you may be helping by supporting YLM just may be a neighbor, coworker, or the children you see playing down the street.

Gallery+Story: YLM Helps Spread Christmas Cheer

Except for a Grinch here and there, the Holiday Season seems to bring the best out in most people. People tend to smile more, become a bit more caring about the welfare of strangers and generally show good will towards all.

Last week I shared a message from Pastor Charles Nieman, as well as photos from their annual Christmas distribution. This week I visited Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care for their annual Christmas giving event.

For the last thirty years, YLM has strived to meet the needs of those in their community who lack food, medical care, clothing and the necessities of life. On Saturday, they gave back on a much larger scale.

For weeks, both staff members and volunteers of YLM have been preparing to provide 500 food baskets and blankets, a minimum of 800 toys, as well as 600 coats.

Everything that was distributed Saturday, came from donations within the community, as well as Orphan Grain Train and Operation Noel who provided coats.

“It’s important,” said Pastor Karl Heimer, “that we help meet not only their spiritual needs but material needs as well. It gives them comfort and joy, a reason to be happy.”

Next year, YLM will be providing more toys, coats, blankets for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But their giving is not limited to only those two days.

Each Saturday YLM provides food baskets for families who need help making ends meet. Registration is Saturday starting at 8:30 a.m. and distribution starts at 10 a.m. Also, on Saturdays, they host RotoCare.

RotoCare is a free medical clinic hosted by YLM, the Rotary Club of El Paso and staffed by doctors from Texas Tech. Then, Monday thru Friday, YLM provides a hot lunch to anyone in need. Lunch starts at  11:30 a.m. and ends when the food is gone.

For more information, you can call the church at 915-858- 2588. You can also visit them online.

NOTE: Steven Cottingham is a volunteer at Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care as well as host of their weekly radio show Changing Lives Through Simple Acts of Kindness

Ysleta Lutheran Mission Looks to Community for Help

There have been times that we have all needed a helping hand. Sometimes we can look to a member of our family or a close friend. Other times, we need to seek the help of our church or even a government agency.

In the Lower Valley, Ysleta Lutheran Mission (YLM) Human Care is the place you can go for help. YLM can help you with a change of clothes. There’s the hot meal program that runs Monday through Friday. On Saturday you can go and pick up a food basket
that will help stretch what already have in your kitchen.

They even host the Rotary Clubs free medical Clinic, RotoCare, where you can receive medical treatment without cost.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of individuals have availed themselves of the help provided by YLM. Now, YLM needs the help of the communities they serve.

Robert has visited Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care, from time to time, for a hot meal. “I don’t have the money sometimes to eat. They give a good lunch.” “The food baskets help,” says Monica*. “I work two jobs and have the three kids…sometimes there just isn’t enough to make it from check to check.”

Tony, who is recovering from an eye operation, comes almost every day for lunch.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “If they didn’t offer lunch, I don’t know what I would do.” Alex and Lupe have been visiting YLM for about four months. They come for clothes, a hot meal, and just a place to relax from a hard day.

“Thank goodness for this place,” Alex said. “If it wasn’t for this place it would be harder for us.” Alex and Lupe have been looking for work, and YLM helps them keep their heads just above water.

“I’ve been involved with programs in this community,” says Dr. Karl Heimer, “since the end of 1982.”

Dr. Heimer said that the Mission serves the community as a way of visibly showing God’s Love. “He, God, has commanded us to serve Him, love Him, and to love our neighbor, and that’s what we are doing.”

Elvira Viramontes is the program director for Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care, and she works directly with the individuals who come in seeking assistance.

“We distribute over two-hundred- plus food baskets per week,” says Elvira. “Counting each member of the family who receives a basket, over the last three months, we have directly assisted over twenty-thousand people.”

In addition to the food baskets, there are between sixty to seventy people who receive a free hot meal per week.

“The majority, if not all of our recipients,” Elvira said, “depend on the weekly distribution that we have here.” She also said that what is received complements the food these families can buy, and help stretch what they already have.

“If we are not open, if we are not here, a lot of people would suffer,” she said.

“I want you to know that more than 90% of every dollar given to YLM goes to helping people in need,” shared Dr. Heimer. “This year we have received more non-cash donations than ever before.”

“We are grateful for these gifts,” says Dr. Heimer. “But it has left us with the limited financial capability to adequately distribute them to the underserved on both sides of the border.”

The non-cash donations do help. YLM provides coats during the winter to children in need. There are also the toys they give at Christmas for families that otherwise would not have them. School supplies and backpacks are given at the start of the school year for families in need.

Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care is a much-needed resource that serves a community in need. What would happen if they closed? What would happen if some of the programs were scaled back?

“A couple of days last week,” begins Dr. Heimer, “we were only able to serve beans and noodles in our hot meal program. We simply didn’t have meat, or the ability to purchase any. No one wants to see this, or any other program we have end.”

Standing outside, looking at the clouds this Wednesday morning, I spoke with Ricardo.

“If they [YLM] were to close,” he said, “I got no idea where I would go.” Ricardo says he lost his job about three weeks ago and is still looking. He has been able to find a few day jobs that helped feed his family, but for himself, he depends on the hot meal program.

“I come with my wife on Saturday for food boxes. But during the week, I only eat here.  I won’t go home while they are eating dinner, I stay out looking for work.”

There are several ways you can help YLM continue their mission to serve the community. You can visit their website and contribute online. You may also visit them in person at 301 South Schutz, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, or call at 915-858- 2588

“I am appealing to you,” says Dr. Heimer, “To open your heart and help us to serve more people than ever by making a cash donation. Would you contribute a donation today toward our “greatest need?”

*Some names have been changed at the request of interviewees

Note: Steven Cottingham volunteers his time with Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care, and is host of their weekly radio program, “Changing Lives Through Simple Acts of Kindness.”

YLM, Community Groups Gather in Ysleta to Distribute Food, School Supplies and More

“It’s just me and the kids,” said Maria. “I work, but not making much, this church helps me and helps everyone who comes.” Maria is talking about Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care in El Paso’s Lower Valley.

“We come for school things,” said Ms. Cortez. “Even the Walmart still charges so much. The school wants them to have so much. Without these [backpacks and basic school supplies] they would have nothing this year.”

Once a year YLM holds an event where they distribute backpacks, school supplies, and basic hygiene kits to school-age children.

“Twice a month we come for the food,” said an older lady who asked I not use her name. “When we come for the school items we are also blessed with a larger food basket.”

This year, as in prior years, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger has given extra-large food baskets to those who come. Each Saturday, YLM provides a basic food basket to those who come. “This helps make what we have last,” said Maria.

“What’s great about this,” said Terry Wyatt, of El Pasoan’s Fighting Hunger, “we’re feeding peoples bodies, and we’re feeding people’s minds. We’re getting children ready to learn by making sure they’re eating, and by YLM giving them school supplies. All year long, this community – YLM – works to feed the people in this area. It is one of our largest food pantries.”

The crowds began to the queue up as early as 7 am to register for the food distribution. At 8:30 other agencies began to arrive and set up.

“We are here to help give back to the community,” said Monica Esparza, with Molina Healthcare.

“We’ve helped by donating school supplies, and helping others with information about healthcareoptions and sign-ups.” Her booth was seeing a steady flow of individuals all throughout the morning.

Other organizations who came include Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Project Vida, the UTEP Public Health Department, Safe Link, and more.

“I come to the free medical clinic,” said Raul. YLM hosts Texas Tech and the RotoCare Clinic each Saturday. It’s a free medical clinic from 9 a.m. to noon. “If not for these people I would not be seeing a doctor. I don’t have money, so this is good.”

“We have this event each year,” said Elvira Viramontes, the program manager at Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care. “It is something the community needs. We work to meet their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs.”

Elvira did want to point out that YLM will be giving out winter coats later this year. Registration for that program is on November 1 st . “You must be registered,” she said, “to be given a coat.”

If you would like to know more or help with food or other material items you no longer need, give them a call at 915-858- 2588 or visit them online.

North Texas Teens Spend Summer Rebuilding, Upgrading El Pasoan’s Home

From Plano to El Paso, in the humidity and heat, one extended family lends a hand to another.

It all started when Ms. Ramos had a family move in with her; her daughter and two children needed a place to say, and Ms. Ramos was not going to turn them away.

She opened her doors to them and found a way to make it work for all of them.

The mobile home that Ms. Ramos has is fairly small and in bad repair. Two small rooms at either end of the place, no air conditioning, and the floors are nothing but plywood. The restroom leaves much to be desired.

Much in the same way that Ms. Ramos gathered her family, a group of dedicated teens, brought to the worksite by the Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care (YLM) project worked to make sure her house became a home.

So how did it start, this group of teenagers coming from Messiah Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas, to work on this one home?

YLM has been working with groups who want to serve our community since the mid-1980’s. One of the things Rev. Dr. Karl Heimer did when he came to Ysleta was to conduct a survey of the area to see what was needed.

Over time, the services YLM offers has grown, but hosting servant events, groups of people that want to build, or meet the medical needs of others, has been a staple of the Mission shortly after it was founded.

There are many things that go into determining who they will serve, what home they will either work on or build from the ground up. The family must be in genuine need, without resources to do the work themselves.

Once they have individuals identified who could benefit from the program, Alonso Gonzalez, the servant event director, then goes out and makes home visits. He looks at the state of the home, assesses the need, and will determine if the groups that are coming are then able to make the additions or build a home if they don’t already have one.

It’s hard work, building homes in our summer weather. The last group I followed, a group of adults that built a home in Juarez, had better weather. These kids, they worked hard in the heat and humidity we’ve had the past week.

Watching these guys give up part of their summer to work on the home of a total stranger is inspiring. Not many people would go this far for a friend, but for a stranger? I am in awe of them. We could all learn a lot from these kids.

The Ramos family is fortunate; they have a roof over their heads. Though numbers vary between sources, El Paso County has anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 homeless individuals. That number does also include whole families that find themselves without a home of their own.

If you would like to help YLM in their mission of Changing Lives Through Simple Acts of Kindness, you can reach them at 915-858- 2588, and speak to either Elvira or Pastor Heimer.


Photos by the Author

El Paso Groups Continue to Provide Homes, Meals and More to Area’s Needy

I am sitting in the church-slash-cafeteria of La Iglesia La Santa Biblia de Ciudad Juarez in Anapra; a bustling neighborhood just across the border from El Paso’s Westside and Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

The room is full of rambunctious boys and girls, eating lunch. For some, it’s the only meal they will have today. The teachers try hard to quiet them so a group of visitors may deliver a lecture. The lecture – given by a group of psychologists – covers grief, and the loss of family members.  Sadly, many of these children know loss and grief all too well.

Yet here, children are happy and having fun. They enjoy their days here. Learning, playing, and getting to know the wider community around them. Over the noise, you can hear hammers, saws, and American voices.

Not too far from the room, a group from East Lansing, Michigan, is building a small house. It will be the first house that family has ever had. This church group has been here before, building houses.

Above the laughter and saws, another, more ominous sound now dominates the landscape: an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Helicopter flying just above the border fence; itself a little more than seventy-five feet from the school.

With all the noise and action, I turn inward and ask: What has brought all of us to Juarez?


A few years ago, I was working at Mt. Carmel Cemetery out on Zaragoza. Most days – because of where I lived – I would walk to and from work. It was during these walks that I discovered an older collection of buildings, and a church. All painted white.

Most days it would look as if nothing was going on. The parking lot held a few cars, and that was it. From time to time an 18-wheeler should show up, and unload a shipment of boxes, furniture, and more.

But, there were other days where the parking lots were jammed with cars. So many, that they would often spill out into the streets, and park wherever there was space. Oh, and the people!

There were people everywhere. They were lining up at two buildings, collecting bags, and boxes. They were going in and out of an orange-ish building. There were even doctors and nurses talking to people.  Every other Saturday, as I walked to work, this beehive of activity would greet me.

Then, from time to time, there would be two, or three vans, full of people, loading up, and heading out. I was curious. It’s that kind curiosity that one has to give in to, and follow.

The church is San Pablo Lutheran Church. The mission that operates out of the same location is Ysleta Lutheran Mission (YLM) Human Care. I would come to learn that the motto, for the latter, is “Changing Lives Through Simple Acts of Kindness.” The mission implied in that motto is one they strive to live, and accomplish every day.

Rev. Stephen Heimer, one of the directors of YLM says that it is a faith-based, non-profit organization that reaches out to meet people where they are at –  in their time of need – on both sides of the border. Just from watching, they do work hard to meet those needs.

“We address the needs people have,” he went on, “Body, mind, spiritual.”

He explained to me that groups of individuals will come down, for a week at a time, and work on projects, such as building homes in Juarez. Other times, they will work on projects the community has identified: building a carport for an ambulance, or additions to buildings. The aim is to serve the community.

“One thing that sets us apart from other servant event organizations, is we don’t take a cookie cutter approach,” Rev. Stephen says. “A group gives us a call, and we have these skills, and want to use them to help, then we will find a place for them to serve.”

Doing what he could is what Dr. Gary Kanemura, DDS, who spent a week addressing the dental needs of individuals in both El Paso and Juarez. To do it, Dr. Kanemura traveled to the region from California.

YLM works hard to help, and connect to others in Juarez, and the Texas colonias, like Sparks.

Living out that mission is a collective effort, says Rev. Dr. Karl Heimer. “It takes all of us to help.” He’s right. What YLM, and San Pablo does, is not just a localized effort, or mission. It is global.

“It’s important to help people, because they need help,” says Dr. Heimer. “There is no philosophical reason. If someone asks for help. Do what you can.”

Above all, YLM strives to meet the physical, and spiritual needs of the communities it serves. There are weekly food baskets. A daily hot meal program. They also host RotaCare, and the doctors from Texas Tech for a weekly, free medical clinic.

Even toys and coats are given at Christmas.

They also host “servant events.” These are groups of people, from all over, who come to the area to build houses or provide care.


So, I’m in Juarez, witnessing the work first hand.

I spoke with Anyssa Schember and Matt Champion, group leaders from Martin Luther Chapel from East Lansing, Michigan. I asked them why it was important for them to come to El Paso and Juarez, to build houses. Matt answered the question. “I think it’s important because to these people a simple house means so much to them.” Anyssa agreed.

“The person we are building the house for, this is their first house,” Matt said. And as the group worked, the woman that was receiving the house was there, doing what she could to help. You could see the excitement in her eyes, and the way she carried herself.”

Ivonne, the woman receiving the house, says it will give her, and her family a sense of stability, of belonging.

On average, for the past fifteen years, YLM has coordinated the building of 26 homes per year; that number – at times – has increased to 40 a year, depending on the help and supplies available.

Speaking with a woman and her daughter, I learned that if they were not able to receive the food baskets provided by the Mission, they would not be able to make ends meet.  But the help goes beyond food, as well.

“It’s the doctors,” said Jose (who asked that I not use his real first name) “The doctors and the box of food. Because if these peoples [sic] I am still alive. I can’t make money because my health…I can’t pay for doctors and most foods. This is God working.”

Jose says that he was diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and gout. He credits YLM and RotaCare with saving his life.

In the RotaCare Clinic, the waiting room is full; and while they’re open Saturday’s from 9am until noon, the patient list fills quickly. In this neighborhood, this is the only free clinic. It is also the only way many receive any sort of medical care.

Speaking with Betty Gallegos, RN, the manager of the clinic, I learned the history of the RotaCare clinic at YLM. The clinic is both a service of the Downtown Rotary Club, and a way to mark their 100-year anniversary in 2014- it’s the first RotaCare Clinic to open in Texas.

The clinic provides basic medical care. “It’s a stop-gap measure,” Betty says. When a patient visits them, they will connect them to a social worker that will then help to provide a primary care physician for further care, as well as additional studies. They also provide prescriptions, if needed, using the $4 prescription lists at various pharmacies.

The mission hopes to expand their programs. They want to connect the community, businesses, and families so the work they’ve begun may continue.

“Love is just a word until you put it in action,” Dr. Heimer. “Love is something that needs to be given meaning by what we are doing.” If love were an action verb, YLM would be the definition of love, and service.

Both the Ysleta Lutheran Mission and the RotaCare Clinic are seeking volunteers. If you would like to help, you can reach the Mission at 915-858- 2588. The clinic can be reached by contacting Betty at 915-873- 0519

Author: Steven E. Cottingham – Special to the Herald-Post

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