Sunday, February 23, 2014

Was Meant to Be

by Ira Smith
One Sunday at church, Nancy Henry gave me a copy of The Faces of Poverty, The Faces of Christ, a series of essays by John Kavanaugh, a Jesuit Priest. On the inside cover Nancy wrote, “To Barbara and Ira: your story should be in here!” She didn’t know that one essay about the November 16, 1989 assassination of Jesuit Priests in San Salvador actually is the beginning of our story.


Reina Hernandez got a call from her 26-year old sister, Cecilia Palma, who lived with her husband and two small sons in a building next to the Pastoral Center of the University of Central America. Their home was pock marked by the assassins’ bullets. Cecilia asked her sister if she could help her flee the terror. Between them they scraped together enough money for plane tickets to the United States, and for rent and security on an apartment in Acton. Cecilia and her two small children were allowed to leave, her husband was not. Reina herself had fled San Salvador with her young son, Ricardo, after her husband was assassinated in 1985.

In late January 1990, Reina asked her church, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for help with household items needed to furnish the apartment for Cecilia. My wife, Barbara, a member of the Christian Service Committee, was asked to take care of this. She decided to announce the specific needs in the church bulletin. Items were dropped off at our carport by church members. By early February, three months after the horrific incident in San Salvador, Cecilia moved into a completely furnished apartment on Great Road in Acton.>|

This was not to be the end of the story for Barb and me. Our carport was filled with surplus items. Barb called the Acton Housing Authority to offer them to low income families. They responded by having tenants make requests by phone. Unknown to Barb, her endeavor was advertised in the Authority’s monthly newsletter. Calls continued. To fill outstanding requests, Barb asked for more furniture in the church bulletin. The cycle of collecting and distributing escalated. Word-of-mouth reached the fast-growing Brazilian community and Barb and I were inundated by families who fled joblessness and runaway inflation back home.

Twenty-four years later, Household Goods Recycling of Massachusetts - HGRM, a non-profit, charitable enterprise, exists. With dignity and compassion, hundreds of volunteers have helped thousands of families furnish their homes – families fleeing hopelessness in homeless shelters, families fleeing domestic abuse, families fleeing sudden loss by fire or flood, families fleeing bed bug infestation, refugee families fleeing fear and persecution, families fleeing addictive neighborhoods, and veterans fleeing the casualties of combat.

The Salvadoran massacre and the fleeing of this one family, Cecelia, and her two children, triggered off a chain of events that has unfurled a long-lasting ministry.

HGRM would not have otherwise come into existence!

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