Meeting the Needs of Disaster Survivors in Chicago

After Hurricane Maria devastated thousands in Puerto Rico in September, Catholic Charities began to see individuals and families turning to us for help. They had left Puerto Rico in the midst of great devastation and resettled in Chicago.

Working with the City of Chicago, Catholic Charities and other social service agencies opened a multi-agency resource center at the Humboldt Park Field House in the predominately Puerto Rican community. The resource center connects those seeking critical resources to food, clothing, and housing.

Elsa Unzueta normally works at Catholic Charities’ Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Food Centers, but she has served as a welcoming face at Catholic Charities table in the resource center since November. Elsa said many people come to her sharing stories of how they lost everything. Elsa shares with them the services Catholic Charities has to offer, directs them to our local food pantries, and offers them donated winter clothing and coats. Much of the donated clothing and supplies came from the number one rated heavyweight boxer Fres “Fast Fres” Oquendo, who collected 27 trucks worth of supplies to help Puerto Ricans. He donated 26 pallets to Catholic Charities to distribute at the resource center.

One of the most heartbreaking stories Elsa heard was of three sisters from Puerto Rico. Two of the sisters came to Chicago to seek help, but the third sister stayed behind because she couldn’t bear to leave her mother’s burial site in Puerto Rico. The sisters were trying to assimilate to life in Chicago and help support their sister
back home.

“We see a lot of tears here,” Elsa said. “But we also see some smiles. We have people coming back to thank us for helping them find housing or food.”

Elsa and the Catholic Charities staff work tirelessly to help lift each person out of the darkness and bring them hope and light. “When we hear their stories, it reminds us to value everything we have,” Elsa said.