Parents and guardians with their school-aged children and babies in strollers braved the cold Tuesday afternoon as they waited in a line that stretched across the entire playground of Little Village Academy to enter a white tent.
Inside the tent were gifts and a chance to meet Santa Claus.
Monica Sanchez, who has lived in Little Village for 30 years, was able to get two gifts for her children. “My children wanted to come, they were excited,” Sanchez said.
The gift giveaway was part of a holiday celebration hosted by the faith-based nonprofit New Life Centers, in partnership with other local nonprofits, corporate sponsors and elected officials.
Among those in attendance were longtime residents of Little Village and newly arrived migrants, some of whom were coming from the nearby city-run migrant shelter at Piotrowski Park.
“We’ve been spreading the word about the event for them, especially since this is their first Christmas in the States,” said Rosario Domínguez, communications and marketing director of New Life Centers. “It might be their first time with a Santa, just experiencing a U.S. Christmas.”
The holiday celebration also included a free jacket giveaway, food, music and children’s character mascots who roamed around to entertain families.
New Life Centers has assisted migrants throughout their journey in Chicago. Some of the work the organization does includes helping migrants find more permanent housing, in addition to giving them furniture, food and clothing. The organization is also tasked with helping migrants at the city’s landing zone, where migrants are dropped off after first arriving into Chicago from Texas.
In the next few weeks, the organization will also be partnering with the city to assist migrants at a new shelter opening at a former CVS located near Pulaski Road and 26th Street, Domínguez said.
However, it’s not without some pushback, which New Life Centers Associate Director of Partner Engagement Ken Alvarado said led to some open conversations during a town hall held last week in Little Village regarding the plans for the new migrant shelter.
“We met with several people in the neighborhood to talk about how our arms are: Are we opening them up or are we having them crossed?,” Alvarado said. “In many ways, several of our residents, and several of us, have been in those positions as well: a new country trying to better themselves and their kids. It’s our turn now to bless them and welcome them here.”
Earlier Tuesday, the organization also hosted a food giveaway at its food pantry Pan De Vida in collaboration with the Greater Chicago Food Depository.