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How Churches and Nonprofits Welcoming Immigrants to Chicago — Starting with Thanksgiving Meals

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Former gender-violence lawyers, fast-food restaurant managers, police officers and other immigrant men gathered at the church Wednesday night around a table in the basement.

For most of these immigrants, it will be their first time having a Thanksgiving meal.

After the bilingual service, the Little Village New Life Community Church held holiday dinners from two different shelters around the city for the congregation and a group of about 10 immigrant men (mostly asylum seekers from Venezuela). hosted the meeting.

“I’ve never eaten turkey, so I forgot to thank God for turkey. I’ve sliced ​​turkey before, but whole turkey like this? No,” said Jose Luis Cordero. Alice Mendy, 49, laughed and said in Spanish.

He wore a brown velvet suit for the special dinner.

New Life Community Church and its non-profit New Life Center have discovered that food is a tool for building community. This is not surprising given New Life Centers’ experience working with large-scale food distribution businesses serving thousands of people each week in Chicago. The nonprofit also provides violence prevention services to Little Village communities, including street outreach, after-school care, tutoring, and sports opportunities.

The nonprofit brings together immigrant families from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Colombia who now live in the south and west sides of the city to host a Spanish-speaking group on Sunday, said Matt DeMateo, executive director of New Life Centers. will hold a church service. Meal afterwards.

One day, a woman brought a large bowl. Pozole, Mexican soup, said De Mateo. It was enough to feed over 150 people.

“For us, the problem isn’t the food. Food is the hook. Food is the entrance, kind of the door,” he said. It’s about connecting.”

After Sunday services Pastor Chris Aarhus sometimes finds migrants leaving to have lunch with local families. Some of them are Hispanic and Latino. He said immigrants can connect with each other and with these families through similar experiences that came to the United States in search of a better life.

“What’s great is that there are so many people at different points in the immigration story. People who came in 20 years ago and whose kids are in college now. Quite recent, but settled down.” And people who have just arrived here,” said Aarhus. “I think we can give hope to people who are coming.”

Sitting at a table with a handful of fellow immigrants on Wednesday, Cordero Arismendi shared a little bit about his life. This year he immigrated to the United States and two months ago by bus from Texas he crossed seven borders and arrived in Chicago.

He survived disease-carrying mosquitoes, contaminated drinking water, armed robbery, heat and scorching sun, and many other ordeals on his way north.

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“Chicago is the city that opened its doors to me, the city that I don’t want to leave,” he said.

Cordero Arismendi said he has a lot to be grateful for.Loyola University has decided to make law degrees valid if they meet certain requirements, such as achieving a certain level of English proficiency. I just found out.

The Venezuelan men sitting at the table next to Cordero Arismendi included former police officers, mechanics and machine operators. Some want to settle down in Chicago, while others want to return home someday. But they have one thing in common. I came to the United States hoping to do an honest job.

“I love this city,” said Gian Carlos Páez, 25, a Venezuelan who first moved to Colombia. He said he wanted to stay in Chicago and study business administration. “I have a goal to improve myself,” he added in Spanish.

At the end of the dinner, Pastor Francisco “Paco” Amador joined a group of men in prayer, asking God to help make Chicago a better place.

“They are people who have been displaced and are suffering…they have been through a lot of hardship but are driven to a better life,” said the founding pastor of New Life Community Church. says Mark Jove, chairman of the Moody Bible. The Institute told the Tribune. “They are really just people trying to survive.”

adperez@chicagotribun.com

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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