May 4, 2023 - News

Chicago faith group struggles to keep up with influx of migrants

Photo of a woman holding up a shirt at a store

Luisette Kraal shows new migrants a donated sweater at a free store she runs in West Ridge. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Luisette Kraal welcomed migrants this week with clothes, food and a warm smile. But she's not sure how much longer her faith-based group can keep up with the growing number of asylum seekers arriving in the city.

Why it matters: Kraal's volunteers are "feeling overwhelmed" as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues to bus migrants from the border to northern cities that, unlike Texas, are not receiving federal funding to help.

By the numbers: "In any given week I have at least 100 adult new arrivals in our store," she tells Axios, referring to Nuevo Vecinos, a "free store" in the basement of Park Community Church in West Ridge, where she distributes clothing.

  • Last Friday, 120 people arrived. "So I needed 240 pairs of jeans, 600 sweaters, 600 T-shirts, 600 pairs of underwear, and socks along with shoes and 120 backpacks."

Backstory: For seven months now, Kraal says she and her husband, Rev. Ed Kraal of Park Community Church, have worked with volunteers to help nearly 2,300 migrants. They do so by:

  • Providing food and hygiene products at police stations, where migrants are first processed upon arrival.
  • Donating clothing once they arrive at a shelter, and later home furnishings when they finally qualify for housing, which Catholic Charities coordinates.

Yes, but: Kraal says her group gets no support from the city, instead relying on hundreds of volunteers — almost all recent migrants themselves — and donations that aren't keeping up.

What they're saying: Ald. Carlos Rosa (35th) recalled how local groups helped neighbors through the pandemic. "I've seen those same mutual aid networks reinvigorate themselves this past week to meet the needs of new arrivals," he tells Axios.

  • "It's unfortunate that in a country as rich as ours, we do not have a robust governmental response."

Kraal worries that her group — and the city — won't be able to continue to help without more outside support, especially with recent and expected surges.

  • "What's happening is inhumane," Kraal said. "We don't have the infrastructure, the finance or awareness for this. Have you seen a campaign on television that says, 'Neighbors please help?' I haven't."

How to help: You can support Catholic Charities' work to house migrants by volunteering or donating. To find out how to help, email: [email protected].

What's next: The city plans to hold a meeting this evening about housing new migrants in a closed South Shore high school.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add information about how to support Catholic Charities' work.


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