PDA Advisory Committee members Kathy Lee-Cornell and Jeff Holland pack backpacks at the IWC center in San Antonio

PDA Advisory Committee members Kathy Lee-Cornell and Jeff Holland pack backpacks at the IWC center in San Antonio — Cameron Stevens

In 2014, the Interfaith Welcome Coalition was formed to minister to the growing number of Central American families fleeing to the U.S.  The Rev. Kelly Allen, then pastor of University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, led the call for people of faith to provide humanitarian assistance to these asylum seekers.  Over a hundred people of faith came to learn about the plight of the young mothers and children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who were passing through San Antonio. They immediately began to organize a bus ministry to provide food, clothing, diapers and other basic items in a backpack the women could carry.


During the first two years, the ministry adapted time and again. No sooner had the group started organizing, when the US Government announced a plan to hold these families in 2 new prison-like detention centers.  In response, a visitation ministry was born to offer emotional and spiritual support. And a new advocacy committee began to challenge the government to end its new policy to detain families.  When it became apparent that not all families could travel the same day they were released, the IWC opened a transit house.  When a US court ruled in July 2015 that the detention of the children was in violation of US law, several hundred women and children were released almost overnight.  The IWC has provided transitional housing for over 2,000 and back packs to over 3,000 moms and kids.


From its inception, the IWC has partnered with RAICES, a local non-profit legal organization that represents many of the women and offers legal orientation.  Presbyterian Disaster Assistance partnered with the IWC early on to offer financial and technical support.  The PCUSA Immigration Issues Office of PCUSA also works alongside the IWC to extend their advocacy efforts nationally.


Later, the IWC faced a different type of challenge-- the sudden death of Rev. Allen following a brain aneurysm. In the midst of their grief, IWC members came together over the summer to strategize and elect new leadership.  Motivated to carry on Kelly’s vision and with generous support of many local, state and national faith groups, the IWC continues it ministry.  The IWC today has 6 ministry teams:

  • Advocacy & Education – to raise awareness with churches and other groups throughout the region about the root causes and the impact of detention and to advocate for the end of family detention.
  • Visitation ministry to the families in detention
  • Shelter Ministry – to provide a safe place to stay until families are able to travel
  • Travel Ministry – to help the families understand their bus routes or plane itinerary, and what to expect, and accompany them to the bus station or airport.
  • Clothing Ministry – to collect, sort and distribute clothing.
  • Backpack Ministry – to provide a backpack with food, water, basic hygiene items, a blanket and other basic items.


Knowing that the need for support doesn’t end when the families depart San Antonio, the IWC and RAICES are working to identify volunteers in the destination cities who can accompany the families to their legal appointments and immigration hearings. Time and again members of the IWC have shown their faith and tenacity to share God’s love with their new neighbors in spite of the many challenges.


Are you looking for an alternative Christmas idea?  How about giving to the IWC Backpack Ministry?  You can send a financial contribution to University Presbyterian Church, Attn:  Backpack Ministry, 300 Bushnell Avenue, San Antonio, TX  78212 or find the list of backpack items here.


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