WEST RIDGE — A group of church leaders is asking for the community’s help in filling the shelves of the “free store” it provides for refugees living in Chicago.
The group known as Stock the Shelves has been operating the store for refugees since 2017. The group was founded in 2016 by five North Shore congregations which wanted to help out locally amid one of the deadliest years for refugees in recent history.
After helping a refugee family resettle locally, volunteers learned how hard it was for the population to afford basic health and hygiene products, said Erin Raska, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette. The group then got the idea to host a free store for refugees in West Ridge, which is home to many refugee families.
“The refugee crisis hit an all-time high, and people wanted to do something,” Raska said. “We wanted a place for [refugees] to know we’re with them, and we want to help them thrive.”
The store stocks specific household products that are not covered by food stamps or are unaffordable for refugees working minimum-wage jobs, Raska said. Access to the items such as soap, laundry detergent, feminine hygiene products and other essential items, she said.
“All these items are needed for going to school and looking for jobs,” Raska said. “They’re expensive and hard to get.”
During the holiday season, Stock the Shelves is seeking the community’s help in making sure upcoming free store events have enough items to help the area’s refugee community. The group is holding a donation drive from 9 a.m. -11 a.m. Saturday at Northtown Library, 6800 N Western Ave. (More information on how and what to donate is below.)
Stock the Shelves holds its free store event monthly, where it serves about 500 refugees. The free store got its start out of a truck that the aid group would pull up to Warren Park. Since January, the store has moved to an indoor spot at the Indo-American Center, 6328 N. California Ave.
Recent changes made by President Donald Trump have drastically cut the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to a new all-time low. While less refugees are being resettled locally, the existing refugee community is still in need of assistance, Raska said.
“We’ve noticed a huge downward trend in the people who’ve come,” she said. “But the need among these families is still great.”
To donate: Stock the Shelves is seeking the following items for its store: toilet paper, feminine pads, diapers, laundry detergent, household cleaner, body soap, hand soap, dish soap, deodorant, shampoo, body/hand lotion, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, shaving cream.
Donations of those items can be dropped off Saturday at Northtown Library, or they can be mailed to First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette, 600 9th St., Wilmette, IL, 60091. The church also accepts donations in person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
For more ways to donate to Stock the Shelves, click here.
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