How to Help Migrants Seeking Asylum in New York City
A web of relief workers is still scrambling to help give newly arrived migrants what they need, including warm clothes, MetroCards and toiletries. Here’s how to lend a hand or donate.
Months after asylum-seeking people began arriving in New York by the thousands every week this summer, the influx of migrants continues — and so do their significant needs for shelter and help.
A network of charities, volunteers and mutual aid workers are scrambling to house, feed and assist those who are here now as they navigate city life.
Headed into the winter, “some of the needs are going to shift,” said Amy Sananman, senior vice president of community at United Way of New York City (UWNYC), the organization tasked by City Hall to oversee relief efforts. She said migrants — many of them from Central and South America, as well as West Africa — constantly ask for warm clothes, and the group is beginning to collect holiday toys for the many migrant children living here now.
Ariadna Phillips of South Bronx Mutual Aid — one of many mutual aid groups responding to the crisis — said the group’s all-volunteer members need money as they scramble to cover the cost of everything from MetroCards to toiletries for newly-arrived people.
“We’re really on fumes at this point,” Phillips said. “We’re going out to wholesalers to buy warm clothing if we don’t have enough donated in the sizes that we need. One purchase might be $800.”
To pay for it, Phillips and volunteers like her run crowdsourced fundraisers “very regularly” to be reimbursed, she said.
Wondering how to help? THE CITY spoke with people across the five boroughs who are helping get migrants what they need right now. Here are some ways to assist them:
The group designated by the city government for cash donations is UWNYC’s Emergency Assistance and Community Needs fund. You can read more about the fund here or donate directly here. Sananman of UWNYC said the group has raised about $680,000 so far and funded four organizations who are responding to the migrant crisis directly — Team TLC NYC, Artists-Athletes-Activists, Gambian Youth Organization and El Puente.
“Some of that was to help with making sure people had food when they arrived, helping support folks having cell phone service so they can be in touch with their attorneys, and helping with reticketing. There were folks that were arriving and they’re like, ‘My family’s in Ohio, and are ready to receive me. How do I get there?’”
You can also donate directly to organizations doing relief work. Phillips of South Bronx Mutual Aid said people can give money to that group through online crowdfunding listed here, but she stressed that many of the large mutual aid groups in the city coordinate together and New Yorkers can fund any number of them to put money directly into the hands of people helping migrants.
“If people feel a connection to their local mutual aid — like they’re downtown near Washington Square Park, support Washington Square Park Mutual Aid — because we’re all in this together,” she said.
Donate Items — Clothing, Toiletries, School Supplies and More
Across the board, relief workers THE CITY spoke with said winter clothing is desperately needed right now.
“A lot of them ask for coats,” said Lt. Stanley Pierre-Louis, co-commanding officer at the Salvation Army Jamaica Community Center in Queens, one of the donation centers designated by City Hall to accept and distribute items to asylum-seekers. “Any winter clothing, really. Jackets, boots — a lot of people come in and request boots. Hats and gloves, too.”
New arrivals are also asking for blankets and comforters, Pierre-Louis said, adding “maybe they don’t have enough at the shelters.”
Mark Appel, founder at The Bridge, another donation center in Brooklyn, said new toiletries are needed including shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, menstrual pads, diapers and baby wipes.
When they sort through donated items, they create bags of toiletries for each migrant and distribute those kits at three shelters in their neighborhood.
“We find out from the shelter how many people are there, and then we bring enough bags for everyone,” he said.
At the Central Family Life Center on Staten Island, office manager Shanina Tavarez said they are collecting school supplies such as new backpacks, crayons, colored pencils and notebooks in addition to new winter clothes and toiletries.
Contact information and hours of operation for all six donation centers can be found here.
Share Your Skills and Time: Legal Help, Driving, Translation
There are a number of ways to help the migrants through volunteering, particularly if you have legal training, have access to a car or know specific languages, relief workers said.
Help from immigration lawyers is desperately needed, said Sananman, and it’s a commitment because “migrant cases are not one and done.”
“This is a multi-year, long process and the legal system is so overtaxed because the courts have been closed for so long,” she said.
People who have a vehicle and can spend time driving would be helpful to volunteers who get emergency requests constantly from asylum-seekers, or from within relief groups trying to move donations around, said Phillips.
“We’re constantly asking drivers to drive, out of pocket, and take on expensive gas and tolls because we’re constantly going to shelters. We never have enough drivers. A big thing that we need are volunteers, especially volunteer drivers — that’s huge anywhere in the city,” she said.
Asylum-seekers also need MetroCards, she said, which South Bronx Mutual Aid has covered from its crowdsourced funds.
Translation skills are also in high demand, in Spanish as well as Wolof to serve the thousands of migrants from West Africa who have come from their home countries through the southern U.S. border and then arrived in New York.
Phillips also stressed that any groups offering free or low-cost OSHA-certified job training courses should get in touch with her group: As THE CITY previously reported, a lack of job training courses is making it difficult for migrants to begin working legally.
Sponsorship of Shelters
Sananman said UWNYC is beginning to coordinate with companies that want to cover the needs of an entire shelter where migrants are housed right now. She said the relief workers they’re working with requested that type of help so they can more quickly get direct aid when specific needs arise.
“In shelters that are either all asylum-seekers, or many asylum-seekers staying at that shelter, we’re developing relationships with companies that want to adopt the shelter,” she said. “It’s something I would encourage folks to think about, because then you can address the holistic needs of that population.”