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Little Shop of Kindness helping asylum seekers put their best foot forward for a fresh start in NYC

Little Shop of Kindness helping asylum seekers put their best foot forward
Little Shop of Kindness helping asylum seekers put their best foot forward 02:43

NEW YORK -- When you walk inside the Little Shop of Kindness, it looks like a store where you'll find shoes, clothing, toys and books. 

But those who walk out leave with more than just material items, they leave with hope for a fresh start.

"Some of the stories we've heard of people's passages here are just mind numbingly horrendous," Team TLC NYC Director Ilze Thielmann said. "For people to put themselves through that to come here, you know, they must be dealing with something truly, truly horrendous."

Thielmann is the director of Team TLC NYC, a grassroots organization providing basic needs and legal support to asylum seekers. The group of volunteers started off by greeting thousands of asylum seekers arriving at Port Authority with clothes and toiletries late last year. In April, they decided to open up shop inside the Seventh-day Adventist Church along West 40th Street to provide large-scale help to those arriving to New York City with nothing.

"Just imagine having fled your country and having to leave everything behind, and now here you are in a foreign city, and you just need everything that we need every day... Clothing, and underwear, and socks and shoes, just really the basics," Theilmann said.

Rick Perez is a Team TLC volunteer. He resonates with those they help because he himself immigrated to New York City from Cuba back in the 1970s.

"Being bilingual, I find that they find a sense of relief when they speak to someone in their native tongue, I can translate for them," Perez said. "They help accept the fact that I'm an immigrant and not to forget my roots. A lot of us -- when we have made it in this country -- we forget where we came from."

Volunteer Irma Davidson has called New York City home for more than 60 years, but as an immigrant herself, she knows firsthand how difficult it can be starting a new life in a brand new place and how simple items like a pair of shoes or a jacket make a big difference.

"We need to be there for them to help them get through this," Davidson said. "This is a big difference for them, and I want to share with them what we're all about. We're not only giving them food, clothing, water, we're also sharing the experience of what New York City is all about."

Thielmann said the shop has helped thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in the city since last year. She emphasized the goal is to provide more than the basics -- the team wants people to feel seen and taken care of by their fellow New Yorkers.

"We set up the shop to be beautiful and welcoming and to look like a real boutique and to treat these folks with as much dignity respect and kindness as you would hopefully get in any regular store," Theilmann said. "It's a lovely thing to not just to get the bare necessities of survival in this world, but to actually have some of the pleasures and also the things that make us feel more human and more dignified."

The Little Shop of Kindness is run entirely on donations, click here for information on how to donate or volunteer.  

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