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In November 2018, Elisa O’Callaghan, board member for North Central Texas JFON, left her home close to the Texas-Oklahoma border and headed south. She was on her way to help asylum seekers stuck waiting on Matamoros/Brownsville Bridge—the bridge that spans the Rio Grande and separates the U.S. from its southern neighbor.

Elisa and two other volunteers had removed the seats of their 16-passenger rented van so they could pack in as many donated supplies as possible: diapers, medicines, feminine hygiene products, socks, and coats.

When she and her friends finally arrived at Matamoros Bridge 11 hours later, the scene was chaotic and dismal. There were hundreds of families—hungry, thirsty, and with no shelter to protect them from the elements. The supplies were quickly gone.

Once home, the faces of the children continued to haunt her; Children without toys, playing with rocks and sticks; Children with no place to rest their head except on the cold, hard concrete.

Elisa is not the type of person to gnaw on a problem uselessly. She’s more the person who takesaction. Those children, she thought, needed a “lovey” to play with during the day, to bring them comfort, and to use as a pillow at night. They needed a “calm doll.”

Elisa doesn’t know how to sew, but she didn’t let that trifling fact get in the way. One friend sketched the initial design. Other friends and like-minded volunteers started making the dolls, basing them on various members of the animal kingdom, but all of them with bright eyes and cheerful smiles.

A migrant child hugs his new “calm doll.”
Calm dolls waiting to be stuffed.

“They are all unique; same family, but different,” explains Elisa. “Just like the children on the bridge.”

“They look like they could be your friend,” someone says.

“Exactly!” exclaims Elisa. “There is so much love in each doll.”

With three separate church groups joining the effort, Elisa now has a large and growing team to help her make the doll pillows. They are strict about the design and the stuffing—always mindful of the children’s safety.

“This is a team effort, ” says Elisa, “and I am so grateful for the many compassionate people who have joined us. Without this team, there would be no calm dolls for the children in Matamoros.”

Elisa has delivered nearly 100 of the doll pillows and she hopes to keep delivering more, along with medicine and other supplies. If you are interested in donating to this effort, Elisa asks that you consider Team Brownsville,a humanitarian group assisting asylum seekers in Brownsville, Texas and on the Matamoros/Brownsville Bridge.

You may also with to donate to JFON North Central Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth) area.

“It’s hard work, both physically and emotionally,” Elisa confesses, “but something I am driven to do.”

We can’t just look away.

Elisa’s usual vibrancy fades a bit. “My heart always stays with them,” she adds in a quiet voice, “and I truly hope they see better days soon.”


We have all been horrified by recent news reports detailing the inhumane treatment of migrants at detention centers and along the Mexican Border.

What does all this mean? People of faith still have work to do!

Justice for Our Neighbors-Dallas/Fort Worth is a Methodist Immigration Ministry that has provided low-cost immigration legal services since 1999. Each day we put into action the Methodist Social Principles of loving our neighbors as ourselves and providing for the welfare of immigrants instead of oppressing them.