Mayor Johnson, Gov. Pritzker meet on migrant crisis as local businesses help feed new arrivals

BySarah Schulte and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Tuesday, February 6, 2024
Johnson, Pritzker talk migrant crisis; restaurants feed new arrivals
Restaurants are helping to feed Chicago migrants as Mayor Brandon Johnson, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Toni Preckwinkle met to discuss the crisis.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Top Illinois leaders attended a closed-door meeting Monday on the migrant crisis.

Gov. JB Pritzker, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson all met at City Hall.

They discussed their response to asylum-seekers coming to the area.

More than 35,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago in the last year and a half.

Pritzker has said the state offered financial help to the city to house migrants, but that money has not been earmarked yet for a specific project by the city.

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On Tuesday morning, Johnson talked more about the meeting while at a South Deering business.

"This mission is going to take all of us. There is a strong commitment still for the state, county and city to continue to challenge the federal government to respond to this international crisis," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, small businesses have been answering the call to help with Chicago's migrant crisis.

The mayor was at BJ's Market & Bakery, located at 1737 E. 95th St., to honor owner John Meyer and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. BJ's is one of 18 minority companies that worked with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to provide thousands of meals to migrants.

"It is a model of what we were able to do, not only providing millions of meals for new arrivals, but also reinvesting millions of dollars in small and local Black and brown-owned businesses," said Kate Maehr, with the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Private donations and $17 million from the state paid for meals at 21 different shelter sites, and the contract allowed BJ's owner John Meyer to expand his business.

"We are more profitable and we are able to pay our employees more. It meant a lot," Meyer said.

The food depository provided 18,000 meals per day paid for by the state, but the nonprofit's contract with the state expired last month. While the organization bid on a new contract with city, it was not chosen.

"We knew as we were going to expand we needed something that would meet our quality expectations, meeting our economic constraints," said Mayoral Deputy Chief of Staff Christine Pacione-Zayas.

The city contracted with two other organizations that continue to hire Black and brown caterers and restaurants like BJ's to provide meals at all 28 shelters. But mutual aid volunteers say not all migrants are eating the meals.

"Overall, we continue to have concerns about the food because we are told sometimes it is not enough, meals not available to some people and the inadequacies of offerings being made," said Mutual Aid volunteer Annie Gomberg.

As migrants are finding ways to make money, volunteers said more and more are buying food from Venezuelan or Mexican vendors.

A food truck parked across from the Pilsen shelter while hot meals were being sold across from the Ogden shelter.

Overall, the number of buses arriving from Texas to Chicago has dramatically decreased. There were zero Monday and none expected Tuesday.

But the city expects that to change when the weather warms up and as time gets closer to the Democratic National Convention.