There are still more than 3,000 migrants living in or around Chicago’s police stations and airports.
As the city struggles with how to find temporary shelter for everyone, Mayor Brandon Johnson has called on places of worship to assist.
A small church on the city’s North Side has answered that call, not only providing shelter but also following the age-old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Each morning, a group of volunteers and migrants sheltering at Luther Memorial Church in Lincoln Square prepare meals and hot coffee to go.
The group is led by church pastor Lindsay Mack and recent Venezuelan arrival Edward Piamo, who was a chef and restaurant owner back in his home country. Every morning they deliver the food to the nearly 200 migrants sheltering in and around the 17th District police station at Pulaski Road and Leland Avenue. Piamo and his wife and three children sheltered at the station before being taken in by the church. He decided to give back to his fellow migrants.
“It’s very important to help them more than anything right now that winter is coming,” Piamo told WTTW News in Spanish. “Hot cups, sandwiches, instant hot food.”
Piamo and his family fled Venezuela last year. Their harrowing journey took them from Colombia, through the dangerous Darien Gap into Panama, and then through central America, Mexico and finally to Laredo, Texas, where they were put on a plane to Chicago.
They are now part of a group of 21 people sheltering at Luther Memorial.
“I feel at home, I feel comfortable,” Piamo said. “We have many people surrounding us in our circle, very good people.”
Pastor Lindsay Mack said she and church volunteers had served the migrants living at the 17th District. Six months ago, they decided they wanted to do more.
“It was not a hard decision,” Mack said. “We had the space, we saw the need, and we opened our doors and invited people in.”
Church member Linda Nguyen led the effort to convert a church and Sunday school facility into a shelter.
“We didn’t have a plan when we first started this,” Nguyen said.
Families have their own rooms and a place to congregate. The children are already enrolled at CPS’ Waters Elementary School across the street.
Nguyen says the church is trying to set the families up to be self-sufficient, setting daily routines and teaching them English.
“They’re all here because they want to live full, independent lives,” Nguyen said. “They had to flee inhumane and terrible conditions and they’re here to start life anew, and giving these resources jumpstarts them in the right direction.”
Mack said the program is possible due to the generosity of community members donating money and supplies. With more than 3,000 migrants still in need of shelter for the winter, Mack said Luther Memorial has proven that places of worship can be a big part of the solution.
“This is part of who we are as people of faith,” Mack said. “All our great faith traditions tell us to be concerned about immigrants and foreigners in our lands, and they tell us we were once foreigners. Welcome people into our land as you were welcomed.”
“Me gusta Chicago. Muy buena gente,” Piamo said.
Piamo said he hopes Chicagoans see migrants as an opportunity for their city, rather than a burden, and said he has big dreams for his family in this country.
“Like for many people, my hope is to make it,” Piamo said. “My project is to start a fast food business or restaurant. … That’s my project.”
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz