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Suburban Chicago church steps up with shelter, programs for migrants

Suburban Chicago church open doors to migrants
Suburban Chicago church open doors to migrants 02:09

OAK PARK, Ill. (CBS) -- A few churches in Oak Park stepped up weeks ago to help migrants who had been sleeping outside Chicago Police stations.

We first told you how those church leaders took it upon themselves to reach out. On Wednesday night, CBS 2's Marybel González learned how one congregation is making an especially big difference.

The Calvary Memorial Church, at 931 Lake St. in Oak Park, is no stranger to helping the community.

"The meals, and financial help, and job hunting, and these sorts of things were already in place on smaller scale for us," said Senior Pastor Gerald Hiestand.

But when Chicago experienced one of its first cold nights of the season around Halloween, the church stepped up for the migrants sleeping outside.

"The need got so close to us that when you have it in front of you, you can just turn to the other way, or just do something about it," said Manfred Karolyi, pastor of care and mission initiatives at the church.

Volunteers called on them to take in migrants sleeping outside police stations in tents. Pastors at Calvary Memorial Church opened their doors to 22 of them.

"It was just sort of folding them in to a care network that was already in existence," Hiestand said.

In a basement room at the church, the families have set up their cots and mattresses. A pastor from another church in the West Side's Austin neighborhood donated much of it.

"He sent cot. He sent food. He sent water. He sent pillows," Karolyi said.

Pastor Karolyi says the church does not call the asylum seekers "migrants."

"We don't use the word migrant," he said. "We use the word guest."

The guests are getting help with job placement, housing, and English-language classes.

Meanwhile, every week, they also hold community dinners – where families can share a meal with church members. We sat down with one family who told us they want to start working so they can get their own housing – and make room for others who need shelter.

More permanent housing is the goal of a network of churches in the Chicago area who pledged to take in 100 migrants starting Wednesday.

For Pastor Karolyi, the united front among churches is significant.

"I think just it's an example that when the church decides to work together, so many things can be accomplished," Karolyi said. "Other communities that have maybe been overlooked over the years too - what would it be if our churches, all of us, just come together and start tackling those issues?"

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