“I’m doing what I’m called to do.”
That, says Chris Djuric, is why she organized a way to help hundreds, or even thousands of Venezuelan refugees by providing them warm clothing and bedding for the frigid Chicago winter.
When a collection point in nearby Rogers Park closed recently, Djuric thought “there has to be someplace on the North side where we can do this.”
So, with the assistance of Pastor Mark Sloss and other volunteers, Djuric has made Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Evanston a drop-off point for donations.
Sloss says it was a “no brainer” to say yes when Djuric asked him about collecting supplies for the refugees.
Such a task, Sloss says, fits exactly with the church’s pillars of worshipping God, welcoming everyone, working for justice and building community.
A non-profit agency called Chi Welcome picks up the items, and distributes them to police stations in Chicago, where many refugees are living, either inside the building or outside in the cold.
Lydia Wong, a Chi Welcome volunteer, is part of the Catholic Worker Movement, which Wong says teaches that “all of us need to take responsibility for each other. That’s what it means to love one another.”
So Wong takes the supplies from Immanuel Lutheran to the 300 refugees at a couple of CPD stations on the West Side of town. (According to ABC7, there are currently 2,800 migrants living outside of Chicago police stations, waiting to be placed into shelters.).
Wong says “what we’re doing now, having people sleep at police stations with no access to showers and warmth is not a solution.”
While Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has proposed housing homeless migrants in tent cities, there has been pushback from neighbors in various communities.
Northern Illinois winters are tough enough for folks who have lived here for years.
But for migrants from a warm-weather country, who arrived in a warm-weather state (Texas), only to be bused by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to cold Chicago is yet another trauma on top of the relocation.
“There is a stronger sense of desperation, because people never expected this” type of weather, says Wong.
Djuric notes that in January, for example, migrants were “getting off the bus in flip-flops and shorts. They’re not prepared.”
She says that volunteers are now trying to meet the buses and provide jackets, gloves and other cold-weather necessities.
The immigration/migrant/border crossing issue is a major controversy, which the migrants are part of, but may not completely understand.
“They’re pawns in the political arena,” Djuric says.
Immanuel Lutheran has been collecting donated supplies for about a month.
Djuric says “we will keep going until the need goes away.”
Which probably won’t be for quite a while.
The most needed items are sweatpants, sleeping bags and blankets, along with toiletries.
Donations can be dropped off at the church, at Sherman and Lake, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. until noon.