Under a beating Texan sun, Guadalupe Salazar marveled at the family and friends all around her cooking chicken and burgers on a flaming grill, pouring cups of homemade lemonade and soaping down pickups as part of a pop-up “car wash and plate sale” near the heart of town.
All she could think of were the 21 families who had each lost a loved one in the mass shooting Tuesday at the local elementary school here in Uvalde, and the 21 white envelopes she planned to stuff with cash from the event’s proceeds to help them cover funeral costs or other immediate needs.
“Hello parents, wanted to say we feel so lost for words for what your family is going through and wanted to show a little love and support on this tragedy,” Salazar had written in a letter to accompany each donation. “My family and friends got together to help.”
In a small town with many rooted traditions, this was the old-school way of giving back.
Salazar, a Uvalde native and tax preparer, said three of her clients were directly affected by the shooting, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School. One client, a close friend, lost her child.
After taking her some home-cooked meals, Salazar said, she realized she had to do more. So she called in her family, including her sister, M.J. Salazar, who is also a tax preparer as well as a counselor, and they got other family and friends involved.
And when they set up shop early Thursday morning, the support came pouring in.
“We’ve been selling out since 7 a.m.,” M.J. Salazar said. “When people should have been having breakfast, they were buying burgers.”
By afternoon, one of the volunteers, eighth-grader Jared Martinez, estimated that he had washed about 40 cars.
“It’s just to help out families,” the 14-year-old said. “It’s been sad.”
Not all of the volunteers knew one another. Among those new to the group was Betsy Gonzalez, who washed a car alongside her 10-year-old son Nahum, a fourth-grader at Uvalde Dual Language Academy.
Gonzalez said her son had been enrolled at Robb last year. She couldn’t help but wonder whether he would have been in the classroom where the 19 kids about his age were killed if he hadn’t transferred. The thought had been stuck in her brain since the massacre.
So, when she saw the car wash and realized its purpose, she asked whether she could help.
“I told them I don’t have money to help out or buy anything, but I can help,” Gonzalez said.
Others were also happy to chip in, even if just by grabbing some dinner.
Jesus Castillo got off work at a local equipment company Thursday, saw the group cooking and went home to get his wife, Rachel, and daughter Teresa to come back and get burgers with him.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Rachel Castillo. “We have to help each other out.”
Guadalupe Salazar said she hopes the money, however little, might give some of the families a little extra breathing room to mourn.
M.J. Salazar said the car wash and plate sale had given her a purpose after a couple of tough days.
She has been struggling since the shooting with nightmares, and with trying to wrap her head around the failure of the nation’s leaders to prevent such tragedies from happening again and again.
They should be doing something, she thought. Everyone should be doing something, she thought. She should be doing something, she realized.
So, she did.
She called up family and friends, she drove to the Costco in San Antonio for supplies, and she set up tables in town — trusting that others in the community would do their part too.
“At this time,” she said, “actions speak louder than words.”