In the Shadow of the Border Wall, a Catholic Kitchen Provides Hope and a Hot Meal

EL PASO — Twenty years in the past, Amelia Lopez Patrykus stood exterior Sacred Heart Catholic Church, ready for a free meal and groceries. The road was simply blocks from the Rio Grande, separating Mexico from her new residence in america.

She had simply arrived from Jalisco, Mexico, along with her youngsters and, in these first few years in Texas, the church offered a lifeline, providing staples like rice and cans of tomatoes, and religious and academic help. It’s the place her daughter sang within the choir and had her first communion, and the place Ms. Lopez Patrykus took free grownup training courses and located a job — at La Tilma, the restaurant that provided her that early meal.

Within the heart of El Segundo Barrio, the place many Mexican immigrants reside in poverty, Sacred Coronary heart is thought to the largely Spanish-speaking residents as a spot to get rental help, take English courses and discover a sizzling meal.

La Tilma, named after the cloak worn by St. Juan Diego when the Virgin of Guadalupe is alleged to have appeared in Mexico almost 500 years in the past, has been a neighborhood mainstay because it opened in 2003, run by a chef who usually makes dishes acquainted to those new immigrants from Mexico.

Fish or vegetarian specials, like lentil soup, enchiladas and capirotada — a kind of Mexican bread pudding served solely within the lead as much as Easter — seem on Fridays throughout Lent, when many Christians forgo purple meat.

“If it’s not good, I don’t eat it,” mentioned Dolores Dominguez, 88, who lives in public housing within the neighborhood. If La Tilma didn’t exist, her youngsters must drive from a close-by Native American reservation to help her, she mentioned.

Earlier than the pandemic, La Tilma served a full Mexican menu, together with plates with huevos rancheros, burritos and aguas frescas, for beneath $5 to the general public on the weekends. Parishioners sipped on menudo, a conventional Mexican soup, after Sunday Mass, and church workers delivered meals to older adults within the neighborhood. Some time in the past, an undocumented immigrant even delivered meals to immigration officers on the Paso del Norte Worldwide Bridge that connects El Paso with Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

The pandemic compelled La Tilma to close down the restaurant solely and pivot to strictly takeout. However, on Easter Sunday, the restaurant plans to open to the general public as soon as extra.

“We’re reopening on resurrection day,” mentioned Father Rafael Garcia, 69, the priest answerable for Sacred Coronary heart. “It’s a time of recent life.”

Meals right here can be found to anybody who wants them, no questions requested. Many days, Ms. Lopez Patrykus could be discovered pushing a cart stacked with takeout meals from La Tilma across the neighborhood, giving meals to migrants, homeless folks, abused ladies and men ready for short-term work. They name her “Mami” or “La Jefita,” which implies little boss.

She is second in command to James Martinez, the restaurant’s chef, who took over the kitchen in 2005. On a latest Lenten Friday, Ms. Lopez Patrykus scooped potfuls of pico de gallo into a big container of lentil soup. Parts of rice, seasoned with rooster broth and cilantro, joined snap peas, broccoli, mushrooms, squash and carrots coated in a spicy yellow curry sauce in takeout containers.

“Once I crossed over, the church helped me lots with meals,” Ms. Lopez Patrykus, 63, mentioned in Spanish. Her 12 years at La Tilma have grow to be a approach for her to present again to others in return for the way the church helped her. “God will assist us once we want it.”

La Tilma offers meals and groceries to about 250 households. Volunteers fill grocery baggage with staples like rice, pinto beans, noodles, peanut butter and tomatoes.

Catering helps pay for this outreach. In 2018, its highest-grossing 12 months, La Tilma made about $220,000 getting ready meals for weddings, diocese occasions and quinceañeras. Varied grants, donations and cash from the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order — also referred to as Jesuits — and meals donations from organizations like El Pasoans Fighting Hunger make up the distinction.

Every week throughout Lent, workers and volunteers at La Tilma lower tons of of tomatoes and onions. Dried purple chiles are boiled for hours for vegetarian enchiladas rojas. Bread is lower and toasted for capirotada.

For his model of that bread pudding, Mr. Martinez mixes the toasted bread with a sauce of unsweetened evaporated milk, butter, brown sugar, Abuelita sizzling chocolate and cappuccino combine. Coconut shavings, peanuts and raisins supply taste, and Muenster cheese and rainbow sprinkles add the ultimate contact.

“I don’t need to see any white,” Mr. Martinez, 54, shouted, referring to tortillas, as a volunteer ladled salsa roja over a tray of enchiladas.

Mr. Martinez trains the volunteers to arrange and portion meals as he may a sous chef in a restaurant.

“I inform them to simply be beneficiant,” he mentioned. “Échale,” he added in Spanish, which means, “Go for it.” Sacred Coronary heart has an extended historical past of outreach locally. The only parish by this order left in Texas, it was founded in 1893 for Spanish-speaking Catholics and staffed by the Jesuits.

Immediately, nearly all of El Paso’s greater than 865,000 residents determine as Catholic, in line with the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso.

“Their relationship with God may be very very important,” Father Daniel Mora, 42, mentioned in Spanish in regards to the primarily Mexican American parishioners on the church.

The church serves solely a small portion of El Paso’s needy. El Pasoans Combating Starvation, the realm’s solely meals financial institution, feeds about 200,000 food-insecure folks. Virtually 18 p.c of the county’s residents are in poverty, about six share factors greater than the national average, in line with census data. In 2020, the common median family earnings right here was solely about $48,000, about $19,000 lower than the national number.

The world’s proximity to Ciudad Juárez make El Paso a largely immigrant neighborhood. Virtually 83 p.c of the county’s residents are Hispanic or Latino, and a language apart from English is spoken in almost 70 p.c of households right here.

Sustaining human dignity, particularly for the poor, is Sacred Coronary heart’s mission, mentioned Mr. Garcia, the church’s pastor. Due to this, Mr. Martinez isn’t afraid to prioritize high quality. If donated produce is rotting, he’ll apologize and switch it away.

For Mr. Martinez, meal is one with texture, and he seeks to protect that as he cooks — preserving tomatoes and onions chunky within the pico de gallo and retaining crunch with the peanuts within the capirotada. He desires the folks receiving his meals to know precisely what they’re getting.

“All the pieces that I do is a typical for myself,” Mr. Martinez mentioned. “I wouldn’t put something on the market that I wouldn’t serve myself, eat myself or current to someone else.”

La Tilma, 602 South Oregon Avenue, El Paso, 915-532-5447,

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