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Salvation Army serves migrants Thanksgiving dinner for first time in Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) — The City of Chicago on Thursday welcomed some new migrants who just arrived from Central America for their first Thanksgiving.

As CBS 2’s Sabrina Franza reported, two migrant families had their first holiday meal at the Salvation Army Freedom Center, at 825 N. Christiana Ave. in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

The Salvation Army estimated that they had handed out Thanksgiving meals to a total of 700 people at the Freedom Center as of the early evening. Many of them sat around the table to enjoy a warm turkey dinner.

But while the potatoes on the plates were a tradition for many who visited the facility, it was a very first taste of Thanksgiving for the migrant families we met.

Margie Gamboa called the food at the Salvation Army facility “deliciosa!” She and her family have been in Chicago for about a month now – they are from Colombia.

Until Gamboa walked into the Salvation Army on Thursday, she did not know it was Thanksgiving.

“She didn’t know that there was a Thanksgiving thing going on,” an interpreter explained. “She brings her kid here – and then someone from the Salvation Army informed her of today and what’s happening.”

The parts of the plate that many Americans have every year were a first-time experience for Gamboa. Mashed potatoes and turkey were her new favorite.

Chicago has welcomed almost 4,000 asylum seekers form the southern border in Texas – including 32 new arrivals on Thanksgiving Eve. Many are from Venezuela.

“They do not do Thanksgiving in Venezuela. They do not celebrate it,” said Salvation Army Harbor Light Corps Capt. Nikki Hughes. “But you know what? It’s great to show them – sit around the table, be blessed with what you have – and they’re so grateful to be here in our community.”

Hughes works with migrant families and their children. At an after-school program, the youngest arrivals have been learning English – and about Thanksgiving – on weekends.

The greatest lesson is that the Thanksgiving holiday is, quite literally, a day of giving.

“She really appreciates the whole sharing with the kids; the food,” an interpreter said for Rosalin Rall, who came from Venezuela. “She’s really happy that they’re taking people like her into account with what’s happening, and being able to share food like that.”

The Ralls came to Chicago last month, Mom Rosalin said Chicago is wonderful – even proclaiming that she loves the cold weather.

Meantime, the Salvation Army served dinner for so many this holiday, they say they set a record. The organization cites inflation as one culprit for the increasing demand.

The Thanksgiving meal at the Salvation Army Freedom Center was catered. But the pantry is bare.

“We’ve exhausted everything in the last two weeks,” Hughes said. “But it’s a good feeling that food is going somewhere that people are going to meet as a family around the table today.”

Looking ahead to Christmas, the Salvation Army is accepting donations for their pantry – fresh food that can help feed families across the Chicago area this season.

The city maintains that they are committed to welcoming asylum seekers – not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.    

Source: CBS Chicago

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