Chicago migrants staff Hermosa food pantry: 'They just want to do something'

ByLiz Nagy and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Chicago migrants staff NW Side food pantry
Chicago migrants are staffing a Hermosa food pantry at a shelter where all of them either live or have lived before.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Fresh off the trucks, pallets packed full of fresh and frozen food piled up outside a full-service Northwest Side shelter.

But, not for long. Newly-arrived migrants made quick work, taking freezers and shelves from empty to fully-stocked.

"They're boots on the ground. They just want to do something," said Yolanda Peña, co-founder of the Life Impacters Foundation. "There's an assembly line. They know what to do. They take leadership."

Peña's organization led the charge to open the pantry in the Hermosa facility just last month. Two floors up from the pantry, 50 migrants, families and couples, have made themselves a temporary home.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository said right now, one in five people in the Chicago area struggle just to put food on the table. But here, asylum-seekers help fill the grocery carts of people who have now become their neighbors.

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It's a fully-functioning operation, staffed entirely by migrants who live, and have lived there. Each person mans their own station of produce, dry goods and cold goods.

Ismailin Fernandez has moved her family into their own apartment. But, she returns to help repay the kindness.

"It's feeling honored and knowing that you're doing something good. Helping without wanting anything in return," Fernandez said, in Spanish.

Just a week ago, Kleimar Rubio arrived there, fresh off the floor of a nearby police station. Seven days later, she shepherded people from her new community through a bi-monthly, pro bono grocery run.

"We've known what it's like not to have food, and so because of that, with lots and lots of love, we help everyone we can and make sure food is within their reach," Rubio said, in Spanish.

At the end of the line, grocery carts are full, and the bond between long-settled residents and new arrivals runs a little deeper.