BELMONT CRAGIN — When migrants began showing up at police stations earlier this year, police officer Jesus Magallon felt compelled to help them with a cause dear to his heart: literacy.
So Magallon, community policing officer in the 25th District station, 5555 W. Grand Ave., began an off-duty effort to collect bilingual books for migrant children staying at police stations and shelters.
As a former Chicago Public Schools teacher and a doctoral candidate DePaul University, Magallon said he wanted to share his love for education and literacy through book access for the new arrivals, many of whom came with little resources and do not speak English.
“As a youth, literacy was near and dear to my heart; I was spending time in libraries, always having access to books and being a reader,” said Magallon, who lives in Ravenswood. “As the weeks became months, it got me thinking, ‘What can we do here?’ I think this is an area that was kind of underutilized.”
Magallon felt he was in a unique position to address the literacy issue and leveraged his partnerships with nearby schools, educational nonprofits and police families to collect books to deliver to children, he said.
His initiative has received dozens of books from Bernie’s Book Bank in suburban Lake Bluff, which donates children’s books to underserved communities. He’s also working with nearby high schools and bilingual CPS libraries, and has received donations from police families, he said. For now, he’s collecting books for children in kindergarten though sixth grade.
“Books, to me, are universal, even for our own police families and anyone that could benefit from the books, that’s what it was about, I want them to have access,” he said. “It’s been a nice reception so far, from police families, from CPS schools, from students and from our migrant shelters.”
As the youth officer for the district, Magallon regularly works with students from the surrounding neighborhoods to increase civic engagement, education and community projects, he said. The book collection felt like an extension of his work to serve the larger community and get students and schools involved, he said.
Principals at Prosser Career Academy and Kelvyn Park High School near the 25th District have donated and stored books, and hosted their own drive for the project, he said.
How To Help Migrants
• The city has partnered with Instituto del Progreso Latino to create an Amazon wishlist where people can buy supplies for migrants.
• Anyone who wants to donate extra furniture can fill out a form requesting Chicago Furniture Bank pick it up.
• Read more: How To Help Migrants In Chicago As Winter Approaches
Magallon has collected over 300 books so far and he’s working on collaborating with other literacy partners, like Open Books and Chicago Public Libraries. He hopes to be able to collect individual donations from people in the future once a donation spot is secured, he said.
In the coming weeks, he plans to drop off books to migrant children staying at Northwest Side stations and to those sheltering in tents outside them, he said.
The migrant issue is coming to a head as volunteers and advocates push for more support for thousands of people without shelter as colder temperatures approach. Magallon wants to make a small difference where he can, he said.
“I just want to work with as many public partners that are relevant to this issue and see how we can work together to address this, whether it’s storage, distribution, maybe some help putting on a holiday book drive.”
He’s grateful for other officers at the 25th District, local schools, mentors and nonprofits who have helped bring his literacy project to fruition and donated so far.
“I know this is kind of a hot issue; I think there’s a lot of division but maybe with books, I can play a small part in bridging that gap,” Magallon said. “It’s a small thing but I try to approach [it] by being a civic leader in my own capacity to try to solve this problem.”
Any literacy nonprofits looking to partner with Magallon on his project can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more migrants coverage
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: