As Venezuela’s economic and political turmoil worsens, thousands have come north in search of refuge. Since 2015, 7 million Venezuelans have emigrated, representing a quarter of the country’s population. Denver has now become home to over 3,000 Venezuelan refugees, having taken in 500 just in the first week of October.
The wave of vulnerable refugees are looking for all the help they can get and the Denver community has stepped up. Resources like Globeville Elyria-Swansea’s pay-what-you-can Huerta Urbana Farmers Market have seen a drastic increase in Venezuelan customers over the last few weeks.
“First it was one family but this week there have been a lot more, and they are asking for any type of support,” said Karen Bustillos, Huerta Urbana Farmers Market manager.
At the last farmers market of the season, most of the customers crowded around Comal Heritage Food Incubator’s booth, where the scent of quesadillas, tamales, and champurrado filled the air. Many of the Venezuelan migrants used their “market bucks” to purchase the warm food Comal had to offer.
“They wish they could [get] the veggies but because they don’t have anywhere to store them, they don’t purchase it and really take advantage of Comal being here and getting warm food that they can take for themselves and their family,” Bustillos said.
Yennifer Ramirez pushed her son around the market in a stroller. Ramirez and her son’s father arrived in Denver over a month ago. Along with her friend Lacy and her two daughters, they purchased a variety of warm foods from Comal. The women met at the Western Motor Inn, located a few blocks away from Focus Points Family Resource Center, where they host the Huerta Urbana Farmers Market. There they reside along with other migrant families.
“We are all staying in a hotel down the street and some rooms don’t have electricity or water,” Ramirez said. “The police and firefighters gave us till November 25 to leave. We are unsure where we will be headed next.”
Ramirez said her child’s father wakes up every day at 5 a.m. and heads out to look for work wherever he can find it.
“He is currently working cleaning somebody’s yard. He has to go out and find work because we won’t make it without money,” she said.
Members of the Focus Points Family Resource Center have received many resource inquiries from migrant families in the area. To help these families, the center is providing a handout flier from the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, that lists resources for temporary shelter, access to food, medical care, and legal help.
“A woman came in with a little girl and said to me, ‘Look, I’m still wearing the same shirt I traveled in. We don’t have clothes,’” said Julia Santisteban, early childhood education manager at Focus Points. “What they are asking for is clothes right now, because they can’t stand the cold.”
Bustillos said there are churches in the area offering assistance. Other organizations like Denver-based SOS Venezuela are accepting donations to help aid incoming migrants. Individuals on the Nextdoor app are coming together to share information about how the community can help—whether that’s donating used clothing or recruiting bilingual interpreters to help migrants communicate. Bustillos says the migrants are also helping one another.
“They are very easy at spreading the word and that’s been really good. They’ll come here and say somebody told them about it and we’ll help as much as we can, at the least giving them twenty dollars for the market.”