CHICAGO — My Block, My Hood, My City aims to give away 15,000 hoodie and sweatpants sets to Venezuelan migrants in time for winter.
The organization’s newest campaign, which launched Friday, asks for donations to support the sweatsuit sets on a pay-what-you-can basis. The front of the hoodie will feature colors from the Venezuelan flag, and a quote about bringing the world together will be printed on the back, founder Jahmal Cole said.
“We have the ability to respond quickly and effectively to actual needs in the community,” Cole said. “Doing small things is a mature way to think about service.”
The fundraiser comes as temperatures drop and city leaders still struggle to house thousands of asylum seekers.
Over 19,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Chicago since August 2022, according to city officials. The majority are from Venezuela, where political upheaval and an economic crisis have resulted in severe food and medicine shortages, surging inflation and rising unemployment and violent crime.
More than 3,100 people are still waiting to be placed at city shelters, with about 2,500 people sheltering inside police district stations. A Far South Side police station is so overcrowded that dozens of people and children are sheltering inside tents across the street.
Cole first met some Venezuelan refugees a few months ago and started playing basketball with them, communicating mostly through Google Translate, he said.
Cole started to provide them with food and day-to-day necessities, but with each batch of goods he would bring, he saw he couldn’t fulfill the need on his own, he said.
“This has been on my mind heavily for a while,” Cole said. “I think it’s a tragedy that so many people that I’ve met — the fathers, mothers and innocent babies — are living on the streets and begging people for food.”
My Block, My Hood, My City works on similar projects to provide warm clothes to people experiencing homelessness, but Cole said he knows his goal of 15,000 sweatsuits is a “large undertaking.”
The organization is giving out 1,000 of its own stock to start and counting on community support to reach 15,000, Cole said. He hopes Chicagoans will step up to donate and get inspired to find other ways to contribute.
“You don’t have to know who’s on the president’s cabinet or have a doctorate degree to make a difference,” Cole said. “You just have to start with something simple you can do to make a positive impact. I’ve realized that if you start with small things, you can build the muscle to take on bigger challenges.”
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