As the country's drug war continues to rage along the border, struggling families in northern Mexico are looking for help now more than ever. In addition to a death toll now over 30,000, the violent conflict between the country's drug cartels and military has frightened away the thousands of Americans who used to venture into northern Tamaulipas every year - visitors whose tourism dollars used to keep many of these small Mexican towns alive.
The ongoing violence in northern Mexico has also scared away several American groups (medical aid orgs, churches, other local volunteer groups) who for years have made it their mission to aid the Mexican poor. This year, as some of these towns needed help the most, it seemed one of the only local groups still crossing into northern Mexico was a small group of mostly retirees that go by the name Amigos de los Ninos de Mexico. I followed them on Christmas as they handed out presents and food to hundreds of families in Nuevo Progreso, a small Mexican border town that once drew thousands of tourists every year. A wave of storefronts in the town have shut over the past year or so, the owners blaming the closures on the lack of tourism and violence hitting nearby cities like Reynosa, Matamoros and San Fernando.