refugee project pic

Hyde Park Refugee Project intern Alison Myers plays Jenga with a preschooler during one of the group's after-school programs. 

The Hyde Park Refugee Project is asking for donations to help refugee families living in the neighborhood affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak. The organization, composed entirely of volunteers, assists 45 people across six families, many of whom have suddenly found themselves struggling with additional instability.

“They are in the group of people that are the most hard-hit by it. They typically have restaurant jobs as dishwashers, or cleaning buildings, and so they’re kind of the first ones who have their hours cut or get laid off. And they don’t have social networks that a lot of other people in this country do,” said Lisa Jenschke, co-founder of the Refugee Project. “We’re trying to refocus and assess where each one of our families is at financially and what they’re facing going forward.” 

Before the outbreak, the Refugee Project had been preparing for the arrival of a new family in April. Earlier this year, they launched a fundraising drive, with the goal of collecting $32,000 to help with resettlement costs. But because of the coronavirus outbreak, the U.N. refugee agency announced last week that it would suspend almost all new resettlements.

Now, the money the Refugee Project raised— about half of the initial goal — will go to helping families already in the neighborhood. (Jenschke said that the organization still hopes to bring a new refugee family to Hyde Park later in the year.)

“We’re planning to do some strategic support for them in the form of rental assistance to keep them going through the hardest parts of this,” said Jenschke. She said that the group would also help its families apply for unemployment benefits and find local food pantries.

The organization is also focusing on assistance for all the children who have been at home since schools were closed last week. Volunteers are designing educational worksheets, and a computer donated from the University of Chicago Law School has been set up to allow one girl to participate in online learning. 

Jenschke said the group is looking into emergency funding, and perhaps repurposing existing grants. But a prolonged shutdown would be difficult to cope with. 

“If this drags on for more than a couple of months, we’re definitely going to need a lot more help,” she said. “I donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository recently because I know they’re really going to need it — they help our families and other families as well. I hope that a lot of people are gonna feel really generous.”

Donate to the Hyde Park Refugee Project at hydeparkrefugeeproject.org/give, or by check to the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council, 1448 E. 52nd St., #117; write “Refugee Project” on the memo line.

Reporter

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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