Time can be the friend or the enemy of grief. We often hear that time will heal and that all things will pass. I wondered if that is true as I walked through the Uvalde Memorial at the town’s main plaza. It seemed that time stood still for those who came to pay respects that afternoon in 102-degree Texas summer weather. Everyone, including me, moved slowly and emotionally among the 21 crosses with names and tributes to the murdered students and teachers of Robb Elementary. Many who brought flowers and stuffed animals to the memorial that afternoon came from other places. My drive to Uvalde from San Antonio took less than two hours. The return trip seemed to be so much longer.
My wife Harriett and I went to Uvalde Saturday, June 11, days after the horrific events of May 24, 2022. We had wanted to go sooner, but we were told by friends who lived there that the town was overwhelmed by reporters, police officers, and visitors from out of town related to those killed. The streets were crowded with barricades still present around the school and near the town square.
What brought us to Uvalde that Saturday was a food distribution event by the San Antonio Food Bank. Harriett is on the Board and volunteered to help. When we arrived early that morning, the lines of cars were long for the 10 am opening. Uvalde is a poor community and many do not have the funds to feed their families. Cars drove by slowly, some waiting for two hours as the food was handed out to local families and the elderly.
We were also in Uvalde that weekend because of our efforts to assist El Progreso Memorial Library with its resources and summer programs. I am honored to be the Lead Volunteer for the Memorial Library fundraising campaign which began this month following the tragic events of May 24. I noted in an earlier newsletter that the children of Uvalde would be spending more time in the library with schools closing. My generation and several after me have always considered schools safe havens. Today the parents of children from Robb Elementary do not plan for their children to attend summer school, or perhaps even enroll this coming fall. Who can blame them.
At the Memorial Library, we met with our friend Dr. Mendell Morgan, Director and Head Librarian, and several library board members. We learned of the pressing need to provide more learning activities for the young children of Uvalde. Many of the children who come to the library are bilingual, some are monolingual [Spanish only] and need literacy instructions and tutoring. Many of the books that have been donated recently are bilingual, which is a great benefit to children and parents. The library is receiving offers of assistance from several retired educators to set up literacy classes and mentoring opportunities.
The library’s strong internet connections are a tremendous help to children who do not have computers in their homes or whose homes do not have access to the internet. The library is also known for its creative programs and innovative incentives encouraging children to read. Bright painted bicycles lined up in a row inside the library serve as a reminder that children in different age groups who read the most books in the summer reading program would be rewarded with a bike prize. The librarians have set aside a table with free books for children and families who need reading resources in their homes. In the staff section of the library, thousands of books lay stacked on the floor, new donations from local and non-residents alike. As we watched, amazed at the generosity of so many, a pickup truck with 12 large boxes of books arrived to deliver more books. The staff is both overjoyed and overwhelmed with the donations and the work before them to process the books, place them on the shelves, and properly thank the donors.
The children we saw at the library on our visit represent Uvalde’s future. The next generations of educators, city and state officials, political representatives, lawyers, and medical providers are checking out books this summer at El Progreso Library. We owe the children of Uvalde great reading opportunities. Reading leads to learning and knowledge as well as healing. The healing from the tragic events at Robb Elementary School will be ongoing for years, maybe even decades. But we can do something for Uvalde’s children now. If you have extra children’s books on your shelves or wish to donate to assure that an ample supply of books is available for children this summer, do so now.