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Grant boosts local efforts to aid migrants

The Tucson community's abundant generosity is evidenced at this drop location at the old Benedictine Monastery. Donations also are being collected at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. (Photo: Debe Campbell/AJP)

Updated May 6

The Jewish and greater Tucson communities routinely step up and volunteer to meet the needs of migrant families passing through the Old Pueblo. In the past eight months, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Jewish Community Relations Council has provided roughly 750 hot meals at shelters housing hundreds seeking asylum at the Arizona-Mexico border, mostly from Central America, says Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO. “The demand is increasing as the number of migrants in shelters at any one time has swelled to over 600 a night.”

Meeting May 3 at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona in Tucson, the Migrant Relief Services Emergency Fund committee discusses expenditures from a $50,000 matching grant fund. L-R: JFSA President & CEO Stuart Mellan, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Catholic Community Services Operations Manager Teresa Cavendish, CCS Development Director Liz McMahon, and JFSA’s Jewish Community Relations Council Social Action Committee Chair Jill Rich. (JFSA photo)

An anonymous Jewish community donor last week created a $25,000 matching grant to assist with the purchase of food, shoes, and backpacks for migrants as they are released from federal custody and transit through Tucson. The funds, from a donor advised fund held at the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, will match donations made through JFSA’s JCRC.

Jill Rich chairs JCRC’s social action committee. “We are extremely active in this effort; we are very sympathetic to their plight. We believe it is the right thing to do,” Rich says.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows that since October 2016, 830,000 parents traveling with children and unaccompanied minors have surrendered to Border Patrol agents or crossed ports of entry all along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Crop failure, hunger, violence, and unemployment are driving this family migration wave.

About 31,861 migrants were released in Tucson between October 2018 and March 2019, with an uptick in March. From January to March, Tucson’s largest shelter alone processed more than 4,000 migrants. When granted admission, migrants may legally remain in the country until their immigration hearings.

A network of shelters is operated primarily by faith-based agencies. In mid-April, the City of Tucson and Pima County converted a recreation center into an overflow shelter. Food, clothing, toiletries, travel bags, blankets, cots, translation services, medical care, and other needs are met through donations. Hundreds of volunteers from across Tucson donate their time and compassion.

“We are working with Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild’s office, Catholic Community Services, and other community charities to fund donations where they are most needed,” says Mellan. “This generous grant contribution fulfills JFSA’s mission of bringing the Jewish community together to help those in need, through the Jewish principles of tzedakah (righteous giving), chesed (loving kindness), and tikkun olam (repairing the world).”

Community volunteers are committed to accommodating visitors arriving at shelters with food, showers, clean clothing, toiletries and a safe place to sleep. They arrange onward transportation, usually by bus, paid by the migrant’s U.S.-based sponsor family members or friends. Within two to three days, the migrants board the bus with a ticket, a bag of food, and water for a one- to four-day journey.

At a recent JFSA Synagogue-Federation Dialogue meeting, some members shared how their congregations are supporting the community outreach. “We’ve done our best to step up as a board,” says Stephanie Roberts, president at Congregation Anshei Israel. Members have gathered and donated clothing and bedding and provided chairs. Temple Emanu-El’s Mitzvah Corps made donations and, in the past, housed migrants. Now congregants sign up to spend the night at one of the shelters.

Judy Reisman of M’kor Hayim wrangled commercial donations including fruit from Sun-Maid Raisins. (Courtesy Congregation M’kor Hayim)

Congregation M’kor Hayim’s social action program for the year is “Feeding the Hungry,” says Rabbi Helen Cohn. “The congregation has been supplying things that are needed, focusing on supplies for the bus trips,” adds Carol Weinstein, M’Kor Hayim president. They also provide belts and shoelaces, two items often confiscated when migrants are detained at the border. “We try to make it fun for the kids with neon-color laces,” says Weinstein. Congregation Or Chadash collected food, toys, and books. Its social justice committee raised funds and supplies while a trio of members who are medical professionals began volunteering.

How to donate to the matching fund

To contribute a donation to be matched, call 577-9393, drop a check off at the Federation, 3718 E. River Road, or go to the JFSA website, www.jfsa.org/make-a-donation. Note that your donation is for “Matching Migrant Relief.” Drop physical donations of pre-packaged snacks, toiletries, and clothing for men and women in smaller sizes and for children from toddlers to teens, at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road. A current list of donation items is available online here. If you are interested in volunteering, contact alitas@ccs-soaz.org or 591-6390.

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