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By Conor McCue
/ CBS Colorado
The city of Denver says it is reaching a breaking point when it comes to the continuing arrival of migrants here, and is now calling on the federal government to step in. In the meantime, volunteers with the Jewish community are playing a crucial part in the city’s response.
Inside Temple Emanuel in Denver, the piles of donated clothing, jackets, shoes, and more are growing by the minute after Denverites made countless drop offs on Monday and Thursday.
This week, Lin Sunshine was among more than 200 volunteers who separated each item and made sure they could stand up to a Colorado winter. In the grand scheme of the citywide effort, it’s a small but important task, as more migrants arrive in Denver every day.
“They are coming to a place that’s being warm and welcoming as best we can,” Sunshine said. “We were asked for warm clothing and we’re providing it.”
This new effort to collect donations is led by Temple Emanuel and several other Jewish organizations in East Denver. Rabbi Emily Hyatt said it started when the city called for help, and their faith compelled them to respond.
“We know there are people out there who don’t feel like they have what they need to be warm and safe and cared for, and to have dignity, so we know that we have to show up,” Hyatt said. “We’re told love the stranger because you were a stranger, so let’s make them not feel like strangers.”
Just this week, volunteers collected hundreds of bags of donations, separated and boxed them by category, and sent them to emergency shelters. The plan is to continue collecting items twice a week through January.
“We’re making this city a warmer place by having what to share and what to give to people who need it,” Hyatt said.
Currently, the biggest needs include backpacks and closed-toe shoes, as well as small and medium-sized men’s clothing. Those needs could evolve though, as hundreds more migrants arrive each week.
“We’re at our breaking point, 100 percent,” said Mikayla Ortega, communications manager with the Denver Office of Emergency Management. “We need the federal government to step in. Denver is not a border community. We don’t have the resources that border communities do from the federal government, so we’re very limited in what we can do here.”
According to Ortega, the city has spent more than $1 million on sheltering efforts so far and is projecting to spend another $2 million moving forward.
Recently, the state approved $1.5 million in assistance, and has made $2.5 million more of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds available statewide. The city also plans to apply for federal assistance.
Until then, non-profits and the faith-based community are playing a critical role in the city’s response.
“Their impact has been absolutely vital, and I cannot overstate how grateful we are for their support,” Ortega said.
Lin Sunshine’s grandfather came to America with a only vest that had money sewn into the lining, a violin, a loaf of bread, and a pillow. This volunteer work is her way of “paying it forward,” she said.
“It’s providing them, hopefully, with a virtual hug that they can feel and feel secure and safe,” she said.
Temple Emanuel will continue collecting physical locations at the 51 Grape Street location on Mondays from 5-8 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m.-noon.
You can find information, including a list of needed items and how to make monetary donations on the city’s website.
Conor McCue is a general assignment reporter at CBS News Colorado. Read his latest reports or check out his bio and send him an email.
First published on December 30, 2022 / 5:35 PM
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