Priest Steps in to Help with Resources as Colonias Keep Grow

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DONNA – A Donna priest says the number of colonias in the Rio Grande Valley keeps growing.

The state of Texas has downsized and stopped classifying colonias. Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church Priest Eka Yuantoro says it could make it more difficult to know which community needs to get attention first.

It starts with an advertisement either online and or a billboard for cheap land.

Maria Pintor lives in a colonia in Donna. She says it's her second year on her rented lot.

"I'm paying, I'm going $580.00 monthly,” she says.

She tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS she started with a one bedroom trailer.

"Then I had my leg broken and I wasn't able to get up in the shower so we have to build this house for me,” she explains.

Pintor's children, five nephews, and some guard dogs live there.

Yuantoro says they’ve classified “more than 75 colonias."

Yuantoro also known as “Father Eka" steps into these colonias to help families like Pintor’s.

"Here are about 50 neighborhoods like this in this area,” he says.

Yuantoro and volunteers start by packing in donations, clothes, and bread.

"A minimum of one day a week, sometimes two days a week, every week never a miss,” said a volunteer.

People come by whatever means they have to the truck; on foot, car or by a horse. 

Volunteers were there when a family of 10 moved out of their trailer and into a home.

"It helps a lot for the kids, for clothing and food and I try to help out too,” says resident Martha Gallegos. “I'm their grandma but it's hard.”

A 14-acre plot of land was donated by a Donna farmer. The remnants of the harvested plants are still showing signs of the past. 

They stand with another sign of the future. It announces a new center for families called Plaza Amistad.

"We have a clinic, we have English as (secondary) education, we have a sports center, we have the empowerment to the people to study,” said Yauntoro, “and we have a church and sports center too.”

The father hopes this can help the families who struggle.

"And it's just a wood house but I live good here, thank God,” said Pintor.

Yuantoro says colonias will continue to grow as long as families keep coming and take the deal and are willing to live with less.

Father Eka explains the land was donated by a farmer. He says it's going to cost more than $7 million and proceeds are coming in from donations and the Dioceses of Brownsville. They expect to start building this center in November.

Yuantoro isn't the only one going into colonias. Hidalgo County's Colonia Self Help Programs served five colonias with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in 2016 with the help of a $700,000 grant.

Urban county directors focus on reconstructing 11 homes, providing solid waste removal and internet access. They also have a tool lending library, which provides free equipment like lawnmowers and housing materials.


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