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Volunteers open free store for migrants in Chicago

By Marybel Gonzalez

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    CHICAGO (WBBM) — There is something new for migrants arriving in Chicago – in the form of a store where they can stop by and shop for essential items.

Everything in the store is free, thanks to volunteers.

The store is not a typical one – it is located inside a church in Logan Square. From shoes and clothes to children’s and household items, it is a one-stop shop.

The customers are newly-arrived migrants and those in need.

“We are not just, you know, giving handouts,” said Kate Taylor Battle, a volunteer with El Árbol. “We’re giving people the ability to kind of get up on their own feet and see what they can do for themselves here in Chicago.”

The store was created, and is now run, by volunteers from El Árbol – a mutual aid group helping asylum seekers in Chicago. The store has only been open three weeks, but already, more than 100 shoppers have stopped by.

“We really want people to feel empowered to get things that they like, and get things that they think are what they need,” said Daniel Orkin, the lead volunteer with El Árbol.

The space where the free store is now located had been used to keep donations for migrants sleeping outside the nearby Shakespeare (14th) District police station, 2150 N. California Ave. When the arrivals moved from the police station to shelters, volunteers converted that storage area into the new project.

For the El Árbol volunteers, the mission is not just about providing them with items.

“We have this huge group of volunteers who have resources and different skills and different information and networks of their own,” said Battle, “and so while we’re able to allow people to come into the store and shop and get some normalcy back in their life, sometimes they’re also meeting people that can lead them to other things.”

Everything in the free store is donated by the community and partner organizations who share the mission.

“It’s a matter of building infrastructure, so that whatever comes from this community longer-term, we can be ready to handle it,” said Orkin.

“We’re showing, like, what it could look like when Chicago comes together,” said Battle.

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