I had found the gloves at Menards. The Venezuelan asylum seekers at the 15th District police headquarters in Chicago, on Madison just east of Austin Boulevard, pointed to their hands and said guantes. Guantes. Gloves.
The snow fell in the wet globules you see in December but not on Halloween.
The police station lobby overflowed with families sharing air mattresses. Plastic bags of clothes. Unaccompanied minors. A few homeless guys from the local community staying warm, too.
Outside, a string of tents flopped in the wind. Inside them, wet clothes froze solid.
Some less-cold young people scooped the snow off their tents and made snowballs.
On Madison Street, a few blocks east of Laurie’s Bakery, McDonalds and the new Oak Park Community Recreation Center.
This is what a humanitarian crisis in the U.S. looks like in 2024.
I handed out gloves. But they needed everything. Blankets. Hats. Shoes to replace sandals.
Some asked for winter boots despite wearing second-hand gym shoes they’d traded up for.
A young man approached me holding the hand of his two-year-old. She at least wore a winter coat, I thought.
But he gestured to her coat and unzipped it to show the single t-shirt she wore underneath.
By the next evening, I had more gloves, six for $6 at Menards. But something had changed.
There were fewer Venezuelans. About half had been temporarily moved to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church near Fenwick High School.
Despite my lack of Spanish (well, I mash together a few incompressible words or sentences I think are Spanish, mostly to no effect), I figured out the woman was asking me to take her to an iglesia. Church.
I told her and her husband the church they wanted was Santa Catalina, St. Catherine St. Lucy — where there is a shower and clothing program — but it was closed until the next morning.
They were insistent. The husband held his cell phone translator to my ear, which said they needed a ride to the church with their luggage. How much would I charge to drive them?
It finally dawned on me that they were trying to get to Good Shepherd to get out of the cold. We packed up the luggage and a small child — who, by the way, was all smiles and delight.
Gratis, I said. No charge. And we drove to Oak Park to the comparative warmth of a church basement.
So there it is. The people who made it past the national border that once ran a thousand miles south in Texas have moved to Oak Park. Our neighborhood.
We can’t ignore the work we still need to do so that all of our neighbors in Austin can thrive.
But now, it’s our time to respond to the refugees