An army of volunteers, including eight golden retrievers, came to help Uvalde heal

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Uvalde, TX — Carlos Hernandez loves to cook, especially when he does it for the people he loves. But on Tuesday, for the first time in his life, he couldn’t light the grill.

It left Hernandez shaken, briefly paralyzed.

But two days later, out of resolve and desperation, he put on an apron and got to work. He decided that now, more than ever, Uvalde needed his comfort food.

Within hours, Hernandez had offered more than 60 family plates of fried fish, creamy mac and cheese and other Texas favorites to bereaved community members too distraught to cook for themselves.

Between filling plates, Hernandez took time to hold, cry and listen to the neighbors as they unloaded days of pent-up emotions and stress. Many, shaken by the violence, cried, ate and then cried again.

To boost the morale of passers-by, he even had positive and unifying messages written on the windows of his restaurant.

“It’s a really tough situation, I’m just trying to show the kids that they have us as a backbone and a support system,” he told CNN. “We always deliver whether there is an incident or no incident.”

Hernandez is just one of many people who come together under the “Uvalde Strong” banner to help heal another American community shattered by the scourge of gun violence. Last week, hundreds of people from near and far lined up downtown to offer volunteer services and offer other acts of kindness.

“Showing families we care is what we do,” Hernandez said, before admitting he doesn’t know if the community will ever fully heal. For now, however, he and others are committed to helping Uvalde grieve and endure.

“It makes you think of your own children”

For Patrick Johnson, going to Uvalde is as much an act of service as it is survival. Hearing about the massacre, he was so overwhelmed with grief that he couldn’t go through the day.

“I immediately broke down and cried,” Johnson, 58, told CNN. “I’m not even from this community but it hurts. It makes you think about your own children. It makes you realize you could have mourned your children.”

Johnson packed up his car and drove more than seven hours from Harleton, Texas, to Uvalde. His first stop in town was Walmart, where he filled his trunk with children’s toys before heading to the town square.

For three days, Johnson sat in the hot Texas sun, displaying a table filled with stuffed animals, toy trucks, Frisbees and soccer balls. He invited passing children to choose the toy they liked, a simple gift from a big-hearted stranger. Every time the table emptied, he rushed to Walmart to restock.

Patrick Johnson drove seven hours from Harleton, Texas to deliver toys to children in Uvalde.

“When you lose something, especially as a kid, you need something else to hold on to,” he said. “It brings joy to children, so it brings joy to me.”

“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. I was handing out toys and a little girl wanted a big white puppy that I had, she just turned on. I told her I’d race her for the toy, and I let her win. She got the stuffed puppy and the way she held it…she hugged me and said thank you and how happy she was. C that’s why I’m here.

This isn’t the first time Johnson has offered support to a Texas community reeling from gun violence. He traveled to Sutherland Springs in 2017 and Santa Fe in 2018 to provide care and assistance after mass shootings.

Repeated tragedies have left Johnson emotionally drained, but he says Uvalde is where he needs to be right now.

“Especially in Texas, we’re not waiting for the government to get things done, we’re helping our own people,” he said, before encouraging others to join the effort.

“There are many ways to be a blessing to people.”

A refuge for grieving families

Before the shooting, the El Progreso Memorial Library was simply a place to read and borrow books. It has since been transformed into a healing space.

“We want our building to be a safe space, a refuge that is a haven of peace, calm and cool,” Mendell Morgan, director of the library, told CNN.

The El Progreso Memorial Library has been transformed into a healing space.
A day after the tragedy, the library welcomed community members with a selection of books and other resources on grief and bereavement, as well as hope, inspiration and advice. He also held”Story time with Miss Martha“, where librarian Martha Carreon read, sang and laughed with the neighborhood children.

Morgan says he wants El Progreso to take an active role in healing Uvalde’s children and adults. Over the next few days and weeks, the library will welcome psychologists, massage therapists, pianists, magicians and artists to share their talents with the community.

A day after the Robb Elementary School tragedy, the library donated books on grief and bereavement.

“It’s a small rural town with a strong Hispanic flavor. Family is key to this culture, so the heinous act has affected huge numbers of people in Uvalde and far beyond,” he said. .

To ensure continuity of support, his team set up the Robb’s Los Angelitos Memorial Book Fund. Donations, which have already started pouring in from across the United States, will be used to buy books, games, puzzles and fundraising programs that will help families get on the road to recovery, said Morgan.

“We are still in shock,” he said. “First, it takes time for all of us to recover from the shock, face the reality of the consequences and find positive ways to move forward.”

“It’s a strong community where we really care about each other,” Morgan added. “Many if not most here hold fast to their faith believing in God, that good is stronger than evil and that light is stronger than darkness.”

“We will stay as long as we need”

For seven years, Bonnie Fear traveled with Charities of the Lutheran Church across the United States providing comfort to survivors of tragedy in the form of quality time with emotional support dogs.

This week, the Crisis Response Coordinator and her management team are in Uvalde with eight fluffy golden retrievers: Abner, Cubby, Devorah, Elijah, Gabriel, Joy, Miriam and Triton.

Lutheran Church Charity dog ​​handlers offer comfort to grieving families in Uvalde, Texas.

Together they sit in the town square to encourage adults and children to walk around and play. In fact, the dogs wear blue vests that read “please pet me.”

“A lot of times after something like that, people don’t want to talk to a human,” Fear told CNN. “After traumatic events people don’t want to deal with people, sometimes they just want that thing that they can touch, talk about without being judged, and that’s about that simple.”

“They show unconditional love,” she added, pointing to the dogs.

There are signs of grief all over the town square. A woman kneels before a cross and cries, shaking so hard she can barely catch her breath. On the bench behind her, a family of three is seated and recites a prayer.

The air is heavy with sadness and the children feel it, until they see the dogs. Suddenly, their faces light up with smiles.

A young girl spends time with a comfort dog in Uvalde.

A little girl sits in the grass and hugs Miriam, an excitable princess with floppy ears who loves to be cuddled. When she pulls away, tears stream down her face. But as Miriam walks in for a kiss, she giggles. Her mother watches as she struggles to hold back her own tears.

“That’s why we’re here, to help people express their feelings,” Fear said.

Early Saturday, Fear and his team attended a private event where families directly affected by the shooting gathered to grieve.

In their beloved restaurant Town House, the bereaved of Uvalde find little solace

“You could tell a lot of the kids weren’t ready to talk yet. They were approaching a dog that was quite sad and confused,” she said. “But by the time they were done with that dog, they were hugging, smiling and even talking to the dog.”

Parents were overwhelmed with emotion when they saw their children interacting with the animals, Fear said. For the first time in days, their children were smiling again.

At one point there was so much laughter in the area that officials became concerned and came to check on what was going on, she said.

“It was our group with our dogs and our kids,” Fear said. “I won’t say exactly that they were happy, but they were enjoying the moment to forget the horror.”

The grieving and healing process will take a very long time, Fear said. For many, this has not yet begun.

“We’ll be back. In a crisis like this, healing doesn’t happen in four or five days. We’ll bring more dogs and stay as long as needed.”

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