Jimena continues to amaze. She works in the schools from morning to evening, focusing on the Latino immigrant community from 3:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon, and then goes to the offices of Catholic Charities to tutor teens in algebra and younger kids with remedial reading and arithmetic (“Whatever they need!”) from 6:00 to 9:00 four evenings a week.
“At 5:30 on Friday I collapse,” she tells me. “I won’t work on weekends. Weekends are for my family.”
It’s late afternoon and pouring down buckets. The plants need every bit of it, but not the crowd of women and kids waiting below. Jimena and I stand on one of two steps under a small marquee, and today of all days a crowd has arrived for food cards. Everyone is careful, only one approaches at a time. The others stand outside patiently in the downpour, some with small children, some with umbrellas. Nobody seems to mind one bit. Unreserved gratitude everywhere.
“Espere!” Jimena yells to the first woman and runs to get something from her car. When the next person arrives she does it again, and by that time I’m running with her to empty her car trunk of many white plastic bags that she is giving out to parents, one by one. I peer inside. Each bag contains a Dell Chromebook.
Schools are opening up remotely, and the families need their computer notebooks. Perhaps in mid-October they’ll go into a hybrid learning situation, with half the students coming in for two days a week and the other half the other two days.
I should have taken a picture of the 15 plastic bags with Chromes (she’ll give out more from her home the next day), but I didn’t think of it till just a few were left. The reason is that when I realized what was in the bags, I felt a surge of pride and appreciation. Of what? Of this country that provides Dell Chromebooks to immigrant children who need it—including children in undocumented families.
I know the horror stories from the border: family separations, children in prison-like conditions, illness, even death. But I’ll take the good news with the bad anytime, and the good news is that here, families are getting help. They’re getting care for the kids. The school district hires a speedster like Jimena. Comcast agrees to provide Wifi at $10 a month for the first 6 months.
A while ago I talked with an old friend who moved to Mexico. A photographer, she drove through adjoining villages to take photos of the old people living there. “It’s hard to believe the poverty,” she said on the phone. “They’re practically starving. The young people all leave to the States because there’s nothing for them here, absolutely nothing.”
So yes, I hear from Jimena that Moise needs money to pay down the electricity bill and Manuela can’t work anymore because she’s giving birth any day now, and somehow—through us, through people reaching back into their purses again and again—we and they get it together. Yesterday the president of Green River Zen brought me a letter she had to sign and added two $100 bills in the letter. “For the families,” she said.
This life-giving generosity should never be taken for granted; it should be made visible, marked, shouted from the rooftops.
“I’m your assistant,” I tell Jimena as we rush out into the rain to bring more bags from the car. I give out food cards and the few remaining crosses that I brought from Jerusalem as she gives out the Chromebooks and has folks sign for them.
And there are further implications, as a famous Zen master wrote. In some families there are 4-5 kids sitting in different corners of a room over their Chromebooks doing different classes. They need over-the-ear headphones. l do some online comparison shopping (ordinarily I’m a terrible shopper, but I may have to get better at it), found that Best Buy was selling the Insignia headphones she needed for half the price of the others, and ordered 15 of them for a total of $440 because I was afraid they’d run out. I think they’re coming in tomorrow, so maybe on Thursday it’ll be Jimena’s assistant bearing gifts in white plastic bags, of which she doesn’t have many in the house.
Many don’t know how to use the notebooks without a mouse; they don’t know how to log in or choose passwords, so they come over to Jimena’s house and she shows them what to do.
“I need $400,” she tells me in the middle of handing out Chromebooks, “can you help?”
A family is being kicked out of their home. Apartments even here, in this low-income town, rent out for $900, so families crowd in together because no one family can afford that rent. Sure enough, the landlord told one family to get out. Each time they change homes they need to come up with first month’s and last month’s rent, and security.
“I think the Interfaith Council will give me some, and the church up the hill will give me some,” she says. “Could you do $400?”
“Yes,” I say on behalf of all of us. “We’re your assistants, Jimena.”
She laughs. “They’ll also need furniture because they have nothing. I already found them a couch, here, take a look,” and out she takes one of her phones to show me a photo of the couch that someone is donating. Jimena has several phones for the various entities she works for, not to mention her private life. When one rings she goes from one to another till she finds the right one.
“I’ll keep an eye out,” I tell her. Someone is renting a room in my home and is ready to give away a queen-size bed and two cabinets. Trying to keep up with Jimena is like racing a whirlwind.
I’ve often thought of bringing in one of the families into my own home. But I live in a rural area, not in a town, only accessible by car and without the neighbors and family they rely on so much.
I don’t work on weekends.
But I happen to know she does because she put me to work this past weekend, sending me a wish list of things the kids need: everything from computer-carrying backpacks to computer mice to calculators to cheaper crayons and paper.
We’re both amateurs at this. “I need quantities,” I write her back, “and please be more specific.” I figure I won’t hear from her till Monday at the earliest.
Four hours later I get a list with quantities and specific details. So I order the headphones and start working on an Amazon wish list.
Do I worry we won’t get what we need? “You have such a mind of impoverishment,” Bernie used to say, shaking his head.
“Oh, and by the way, Byron sent soup,” Jimena says. Byron is her husband, a great cook.
“Sent you. He makes great chicken soup and he did this especially for you. I have some in the car, I’ll get it.”
“I’ll get it, I’m your assistant,” I tell her. “Please thank him for me. By the way, is Byron Jewish?”