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Chicago church has been helping migrants from start, and many have settled into new home a year later

Migrants settle into a new life in Chicago a year later
Migrants settle into a new life in Chicago a year later 03:13

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Since the migrant crisis began more than a year ago, 20,500 migrants have arrived in Chicago.

CBS 2's Marybel González on Wednesday visited a church that has been going above and beyond from the start – and met a family who has settled into a new normal one year later.

"We're called to do it," said Pastor John Zayas of Grace and Peace Church of Chicago. "The church is called to welcome the solider; welcome the orphan; the widows."

The church, at 1856 N. LeClaire Ave. in the North Austin neighborhood, is now serving as more than a place of worship. It has been transformed into a hub for migrants arriving in Chicago.

"Since August of last year, we have been in the fire of it all," Zayas said.

In fact, the church was one of the first places that offered shelter when Texas first began sending migrants to Chicago last year. Over 100 people stayed inside the church at a time.

"Our goal was always get them out in 60 days, so we did 100 every 60 days," Zayas said.

Zayas got them migrants out of the church and into their own apartments – connecting them with jobs and basic necessities.

"When they're coming here for the first time, they have shoes, hats, clothes, coats – all that," Zayas said.

The church has a 20,000-square-foot warehouse filled with donations to give to those in need in the Austin community. But with the arrival of more migrants, their inventory has only increased.

"We're at position right now that our donations have gone high – that we're not even accepting donations," Zayas said.

The boxes of items are front and center at the warehouse. But what you can't see at first glance are the people working there.

Jose Antonio and Romercy were among the first groups of people who arrived in Chicago last August. It has been more than a year since that day, but Jose Antonio still tears up thinking about their journey – running out of food in the jungle, and watching people die along the way.

It is a stark difference compared with their life now. They got their work permits within a few months, and are working at the church doing maintenance and paying rent on their apartment.

"Even though they have a full-time job, they come and give back," Zayas said, "because it was done for them."

And they're not the only ones. Pastor Zayas is helping 400 other families do the same.

"We've had thousands that have come through and are now established, but we only focus on the ones that are just coming off the bus - and they don't see the full picture," Zayas said. "So that's why I think people get upset. They say, 'Well how long are you going to have these folks here?"

To Zayas, that full picture means people settled into a city they're eager to call home.

"They really want to be part of the fabric of America," Zayas said.

Zayas said he is in it all for the long haul – and the church will keep helping migrants as long as the buses keep coming.

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