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CRS provides some aid and dignity to city migrants


Migrants who come to Buffalo often find themselves lost downtown with little more than summer clothes held in an onion bag. Catholic Relief Services has partnered with Justice for Migrant Families to make that transition a little bit easier.

Jennifer Connor (center), executive director for Justice for Migrant Families, receives backpacks filled with much needed items for migrants coming to Buffalo. Deacon Don Weigel and Kelly Ann Kowalski, co-chair for the Buffalo diocesan chapter of Catholic Relief Services, organized the packing of the bags with local parishes. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

CRS reached out to local parishes to fill backpacks with water bottles, socks, toiletries, a map, and a notebook. These “Dignity bags” are given to the migrants after their release from the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, so they have the essentials they need to survive, at least for a short time. Often the migrants come with little more than a few possessions carried from their home countries.

“Most of the time they’re just dropped in the middle of the city,” explained Deacon Don Weigel, co-chair the Buffalo Diocesan Chapter of CRS.

Justice for Migrant Families is a grassroots organization based in Buffalo that does direct support, advocacy and organizing for and with undocumented immigrants, people in detention, and the community. The nonprofit agency provides information, support and material assistance to migrants in federal detention. It also helps find shelter, legal support, and emergency funds for migrants in the community.

JMF presents the migrants with the dignity bags and often provide the first meal they’ve had in 12 hours. They are guided as to where to go, given bus tickets, food, and a little hope.  

“We don’t want to see people end up in the same desperate circumstances (they left),” explained Jennifer Connor, executive director for JMF. “A lot of people we meet were fleeing some desperate circumstances. They arrive in Texas, so in the summer they’re in shorts and T-shirts.

The next thing they know they’ve been arrested and brought to Buffalo, New York, where it’s very cold and snowy.”

CRS also provided a check with one-quarter of its local Lenten Rice Bowl collection to JMF. Through CRS Rice Bowl, communities in dioceses throughout the U.S. put their faith into action through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lenten alms donated through CRS Rice Bowl support the work of CRS in more than 100 different countries each year. With 75 percent going to CRS to be used around the world. The rest stays in the diocese to support hunger and poverty alleviation efforts.

“CRS always has a number of focuses,” said Deacon Weigel. “We’ve had two major intentions over the past few years. One is migration and the other is hunger. In addition to those two, now we have added climate change. We’ve advocated for migration and immigration reform in the past. We will continue to do that and we will continue to support organizations that help immigrants once they get to the United States.”

Deacon Weigel thanked the parish communities of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Harris Hill, St. Katharine Drexel in Buffalo, St. Joseph University in Buffalo for packing the dignity bags.


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