From left, Vivian Jones-Samuels, Norma Woods and Maria Rytkola, members of Christ Lutheran Church, take turns signing some of the 400 Mother's Day cards which will be sent to immigrant women from Central America, either newly arrived or being held in a detention center.
From left, Vivian Jones-Samuels, Norma Woods and Maria Rytkola, members of Christ Lutheran Church, take turns signing some of the 400 Mother's Day cards which will be sent to immigrant women from Central America, either newly arrived or being held in a detention center. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Mary Smith picked up the cards one by one from a stack on the wooden table in front of her. She slowly signed her name on each in blue ink.

“Recordándote este Dia de las Madre,” the cards read on the outside. “Remembering you this Mother’s Day.”

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Smith, 88, and other members of Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore have been filling out hundreds of cards. Signed by members between church services and choir rehearsals, the notes of encouragement are headed to Texas and Arizona, where volunteers will distribute them to migrant women from Central America.

“You are a beloved child of God and our sister in Christ,” the inside of each card reads, in English and Spanish. “Your courage inspires us, and on this Mother’s Day you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers.”

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Smith and other members of the church said Sunday that they wanted to send a message to the women that others are thinking of them from afar.

“There is a whole community that knows that they are there,” said Pastor Susan Tjornehoj. “We’re paying attention.”

Linda Hartke, who organized the project, planned to ship 500 cards in boxes to the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, a group that formed five years ago to help unaccompanied children coming to the United States from Central America.

A Catholic nun who works with the group plans to take some the cards to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which is the nation’s largest immigrant detention center, she said.

Other cards will be distributed by volunteers who minister to people arriving at the bus station in San Antonio, Hartke said. Still more will be taken to Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest in Arizona, which is working with mothers and their children.

Hartke, a former head of Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said she was inspired by the organization’s Hope for the Holidays campaign. Part of that effort includes sending Christmas cards to migrants and refugees.

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Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the current president and CEO of LIRS, said the cards are “a basic token of humanity” that convey a welcoming message. For many asylum seekers at the southern border, “what they face is extreme hostility and harsh detention conditions,” she said.

The organization is one of the largest resettlement agencies in the nation, and has helped reunify families after separations at the border.

“What we are seeing is a dire humanitarian need that is not being fully met right now,” Vignarajah said.

She added that she often hears from people wondering what they can do to help others.

“I think being able to communicate directly and in some small way is so important,” she said.

Church member Dana Weckesser said her message was simple: “As a mother, I’m with you.” She lost her first child, a son, to illness when he was an infant three decades ago.

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“It still breaks my heart,” said Weckesser, 62. “I understand, unfortunately, at the gut level what it’s like to be separated from a child.”

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Another congregant, Cecilia Mendoza, 51, said she, too, could empathize with the women. She fled violence in Colombia with her two children 18 years ago after three members of her family were kidnapped. Her husband arrived a few months later.

A bacteriologist in her home country, she had to build a new a life in Baltimore. She found work in a hotel kitchen, cutting fruit and setting up the breakfast buffet. Today, she runs her own cleaning business.

“We know exactly how hard it is leaving our country and our family,” Mendoza said, tearing up. “It’s not because you want to leave your country. … You have to leave.”

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