Diocesan News

At Local Churches, Migrants Find Food, Clothing, Friendship

Brother Francisco Serrano O.F.M. Cap. serves dessert to one of the visitors. The guests are usually given a choice of sweet treats to top off their meals. (Photos: Paula Katinas)

EAST NEW YORK — The number of migrants coming here to St. Michael-St. Malachy Parish in East New York for food and clothing has been steadily decreasing in recent days, but that might be a good thing.

That’s because some migrants — mostly young people from Venezuela who were bused to New York City from Texas after crossing the border from Mexico — could be no-shows at the parish because they’re receiving job training elsewhere in the city, parish leaders said.

The pastor, Father Brendan Buckley O.F.M. Cap., said the parish currently sees approximately 40 migrants every Tuesday and Thursday, when volunteers provide hot meals and warm clothing for the newcomers. That’s down from previous weeks when anywhere from 50-70 migrants found their way to the church’s doors after being bused into the city. 

St. Michael-St. Malachy Parish has been helping the migrants since August.

One reason for the decrease is the fact that the migrants are heading up to the Bronx, where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is providing free training to pave the way for them to obtain safety certificates that would allow them to get construction jobs. A safety certificate is required in order to get employment as a construction worker.

“Everyone wants a job. None of them is looking for a handout,” Father Buckley said, adding that the folks he has seen are mostly young men who are staying at three city-run homeless men’s shelters in East New York located a few blocks from his church.

But while the number of people seeking help has been decreasing, the need is still there, Father Buckley and parish leaders said.

Vanessa Garcia, the parish’s director of religious education, who runs the food-clothing program with her mother, Barbara Garcia, the business manager, said approximately 1,000 people have come through since August.

According to city officials, 22,000 migrants have been bused from Texas to New York since April. In recent weeks, the buses have stopped coming, but the migrants who are already here are receiving help from several sources, including churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The parishes in the diocese’s B6 Deanery in Eastern Brooklyn have stepped up to the plate in various ways:

  • St. Gabriel Church provides free meals on Sundays for newcomers.
  • St. Matthew Church held a clothing drive.
  • St. Pius V Church offers food to the migrants.

Migrants who come to St. Michael-St. Malachy on Tuesdays and Thursdays find a hot meal cooked just for them — on Nov. 15, it was chicken and rice made by Brother Francisco Serrano O.F.M. Cap. — as well as a room filled with coats, hats, shirts, pants, socks, and underwear, all carefully placed on display tables for them to pick out and take with them.

All of the food and clothing is donated by parishioners and community residents. “We’re blessed with our community,” explained Vanessa Garcia. “We asked for clothes, we got clothes. We asked for food, we got food.”

Vanessa Garcia and the folks at St. Michael – St. Malachy Parish have done more than just serve meals to migrants like Raul Desena. “We build a relationship with them,” said Garcia, who is fluent in Spanish.

Barbara Garcia, who has been a parishioner for 30 years, said the program is a lot of work but very rewarding. “Whatever God throws my way, we’ll get it done. Somehow, God provides,’ she added.

Brother Francisco was busy in the kitchen, heating up plates of chicken and rice in the oven. “Many of them come back for seconds, so I always like to have a plate ready,” he explained. 

On this day, he also had dessert ready; the guests could choose between bread pudding or Jello, or have both if they wanted.

Jesus Ospino, who arrived in New York from the border on Oct. 16 after traveling from his native Venezuela, was enjoying his chicken and rice and feeling grateful. “I’m grateful to God that I can come here to get a meal and warm clothes,” he said through an interpreter. He learned about the free meals from a friend at a nearby shelter.

In addition to hot food and warm clothing, the parish is providing something just as important — spiritual healing. The Garcias and the other volunteers offer friendship. 

“We build a relationship with them,”  Vanessa Garcia said. “It’s not just, ‘Come and get your food and your clothes and leave.’ We get to know them as people, and they get to know us.”

And the parish is benefitting too, according to Father Buckley.

“A number of them have been coming to Mass,” he said. “We see about 25 to 30 of them on Sundays.”