In late November, temperatures plunged in the Chicagoland area. When staff at Puente del Pueblo noticed Sudanese refugees walking around without coats or hats, they knew they had to take action.
“The refugees, who had recently arrived at Timber Lake apartments, had never seen snow,” says Matthew McNiel, Director of Puente del Pueblo. “In Sudan, the ‘cold’ season lasts from December 14 to January 31 with an average daily high temperature of 89°F. They were not knowledgeable enough about our climate to make good decisions on their own.”
The solution? Puente created an event to provide winter gear to not only the Sudanese refugees, but also the refugees from Iraq and Burma living at Timber Lake. Iglesia del Pueblo, the Hispanic congregation at Wheaton Bible Church and a ministry partner to Puente del Pueblo, hosted the event on November 21, which included an in-home, “in-closet” assessment with seven families.
“After distributing coats, hats, scarves and gloves, members of Iglesia del Pueblo showed the families, pictorially and theatrically, how to dress for winter,” says Matthew. “The Sudanese thought it was hilarious that people need to wear up to five layers of clothes in the winter.” The group also provided morning sweets, coffee and juice for all who attended.
“The free distribution of winter wear was an effective and dignifying strategy in this particular situation,” says Matthew. “It was God’s timing that the distribution moment happened during the first major snow and cold snap of the season!”
In addition to meeting practical needs, a spiritual seed was planted. “We invited Sudanese families to the Arabic-English Bible study at Wheaton Bible Church,” he says. “They answered that they would be happy to join us.”