Community banquet in Woodlawn welcomes new arrivals

Since the city’s ‘New Arrivals Mission’ began, Chicago has welcomed more than 41,000 migrants from the southern border. 

To date, nearly 17,000 of those individuals have been resettled, according to the Office of Emergency Management & Communications (OEMC).

Still, the resettlement process can be a journey of its own as migrants acclimate to new neighborhoods, schools, and jobs.

On Saturday, First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, New Life Centers, and Chicago4All hosted a community banquet in Woodlawn, where neighbors – new and old – broke bread.  

The event served to provide a safe and welcoming space for families who are settling in the area.

"A lot of the migrants live right here in the neighborhood, and we just really wanted to invite and welcome them and make them feel a part of the community," said Sylvia Matthews, an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Chicago.

With translators on hand, the meal also gave existing community members the opportunity to get to know their new neighbors.  

"At the start, it was very difficult because this is all new for us – being so far away from our country," said Makol Mendoza, a migrant from Venezuela.

Last year, Mendoza and his wife, Yorgelis Alvarez, journeyed to the United States from Venezuela with their 8-year-old daughter.

They are still adjusting to their new city, but tell FOX 32 Chicago they are busy working and their daughter is doing well in school.

The banquet was a highlight of their weekend.

"I feel good because we can get to know our neighbors and be social with those around us," said Alvarez.

While enjoying a West African meal from Dozzy's Grill, resources were made available to new arrivals.

"There’s lots of good being done in the city and so we’re just trying to get folks connected to that," said Andre Gordillo with New Life Centers.

Gordillo is the New Vecinos program director at New Life Centers, which has helped resettle more than 3,000 families since last spring. 

During resettlement, the organization provides them with a basic furniture kit.  

They also offer wraparound services to new arrivals, including case management – not only for their first steps but throughout their new journey.

"How do you walk with people long-term and create community and that’s what we’re all about," said Gordillo.

As new arrivals continue to settle into apartments and homes, New Life Centers is still collecting donations, including new and gently used houseware items like pots, pans, dinnerware, and utensils.

The organization is also working with Chicago Furniture Bank to offer home furnishings to new arrivals at no cost.