One of the youngest migrants accepts a dinner from a SANAD volunteer just outside the Chicago Lawn (8th) District Police Station where he has been temporarily staying. Photo by Kathy Headley

One of the youngest migrants accepts a dinner from a SANAD volunteer just outside the Chicago Lawn (8th) District Police Station where he has been temporarily staying. Photo by Kathy Headley

Party becomes humanitarian effort for migrants

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By Kathy Headley

What started out as a nice spring block party quickly took a turn, becoming an emergency situation.

As venders began arriving on the Friday morning of May 5, the warm air and slight breeze looked to predict the beginning of a perfect day for a block party. Hosted by SANAD (Social Services Assisting Neighborhood Arab-American Development) and co-sponsored by the International Human Relations Council, Spaulding Avenue was blocked off at 63rd Place, allowing enough room for the visitors to pass through and take advantage of the food and information tables.

Kicking off the event with the theme of “Fight the Hunger Day,” Aber Abueid, director of the SANAD Food Pantry, emphasized celebrating what makes everyone unique.

“What if instead of focusing on the things that divide us, what if we chose to focus on building bridges instead?,” Abueid asked.

Jennifer Scott, from the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, was manning a table at the event. She estimated that about 60 to 70 people had taken advantage of the weather to stop in.

But then as the crowd began to dwindle, Abueid was alerted to a man in a dire condition.

Quickly assessing the situation, finding the man to be weak and very pale, and having not eaten in a long time, she called down to the IMAN Health Center, which is headquartered in the former Marquette Park Federal Savings and Loan building at 2744 W. 63rd St.

The young man, a migrant temporarily housed at the 8th District Police Station, was diagnosed with gastrointestinal symptoms believed to be a result from drinking bad water en route to the United States.

He was transported to Holy Cross Hospital. He was later treated and released. Medical personnel examined those with him and then proceeded to the police station to assess the needs of the others.

The situation completely changed the atmosphere of the day, and Abueid immediately set her volunteers into what she deemed as “crisis mode.”It was time to stop celebrating and start helping. Having secured hot chicken and fish dinners, they loaded their portable truck up and hurried the two blocks down to the station.

Much has been in the news of late, describing the influx of asylum seekers risking all to come to the United States, arriving in Texas and then sent by Gov. Greg Abbott on buses and shipped to major cities, including Chicago.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot had been vocal in the need for funds to provide shelter and provisions for these families.

Police stations have been given the difficult job of harboring families in their lobbies until a more permanent place can be found.

“This shows the failure of our city, state and nation to address the present humanitarian crisis. We are receiving pennies on the dollar from state and federal resources,” said Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), whose ward encompasses the 8th District Police Station.

But Tabares brought up another point regarding the surge of migrants entering the city.

“Since last August migrants have been coming here, yet at the same time, we have been able to put together and coordinate huge events like Lollapalooza and NASCAR,” Tabares said. “Our elected officials should be holding emergency meetings right now. We are past the tipping point.”

On that Friday morning, 17 families were staying at the 8th District. Upon arriving at the station, SANAD volunteers met up with Erika Villegas, a volunteer herself, who along with other area volunteers have been trying to provide meals and basic necessities for the families temporarily living at the station.

“For the past two weeks, we call the station every morning to find out how many people they have and then determine who can bring breakfast, lunch or dinner,” Villegas, a Garfield Ridge resident, said. “And we try to supply as many basic necessities as we can.”

Villegas said volunteers are primarily Garfield Ridge, West Lawn and Chicago Lawn residents.

“Much of this comes out of our own pockets as we, and others, try to cover the 8th police station involved,” she explained. “But we have received some wonderful donations as well.”

Ald. Jeylu Gutierrez (14th) learned that migrants were washing up at a sink with a washcloth or with wipes, sent over a portable shower for a day. State Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar (D-22nd) secured food.

The Southwest Collective helped with a large donation of Pepsi. Continental Sales contributed clothing. New Life Church in Archer Heights opened their food pantry and sent over meals.

As volunteers struggle to supply as many basic necessities as possible, they look for donations of small bottles of shampoo, soaps, toothpaste, wipes, coloring books and crayons for the kids, and backpacks.

To assist in providing food and supplies, residents can send an email to chipolicestationresponse@gmail.com.

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