HYDE PARK — Members of Augustana Lutheran Church have found that their humanitarian effort to help a family from war-torn Syria resettle in Hyde Park has become increasingly political.
Dorothy Pytel, who helped organize the Hyde Park Refugee Project at the church, said the volunteers found themselves fundraising and getting an expected arrival date for the family last week just as Donald Trump was elected president after stirring up fear of Syrians during the campaign.
“It has become a politicized event when we were just trying to help a family,” Pytel said.
She said the election of Trump has added urgency to the church’s efforts with nonprofit Refugee One in Uptown, which works with the federal government to help settle refugees.
“I’m not sure whether President Trump will be able to stop this program as an executive action as soon as he takes office, so there is an imperative to move fast,” Pytel said.
Pytel said the family is expected to arrive at O’Hare Airport directly from the Middle East sometime in mid-December and those here to help them get adjusted won’t know anything about them until shortly before they arrive.
She said it makes it difficult to rent an apartment for the family because they have no idea whether there will be children or how many.
Pytel said there is not the network of support on the South Side that there is on the North Side, and his church is working with Hyde Park Union Church, First Unitarian Church and other institutions on the south lakefront to make sure the area can give refugees the support they need.
“The only thing they arrive with is a bunch of suitcases with clothes,” Pytel said.
She said people in the neighborhood have already chipped in to raise $6,350 of the $8,000 the church is trying to raise and donated a whole host of household items so the family arrives with beds to sleep on and a fully stocked pantry.
Pytel said organizers lined up Arabic speakers on the South Side to help with translation, but the biggest issue is finding employers who want to hire refugees.
“It really is the hardest link in all of this,” Pytel said.
She said the goal is to build up the resources to be able to easily accommodate refugees in Hyde Park.
But for right now, the church is focused on preparing for its first family and checking off those last few items on its list of essentials for a family new to the city, including bus passes, lots of window fans and other items.
A full list of items the church is trying to acquire for the family is available online.
The project has also started a fundraising website, where people can donate money or reach volunteers to offer employment or other services.
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