On Monday, dozens of volunteers and members from Denver’s Jewish community helped accept and sort donations at Temple Emanuel for migrants coming through the city. This spring will be the second time the Jewish community has come together to support the migrants. The first drive was back in December.
Ten-year-old Mayzie Leshem was volunteering with her dad, Dan. Mayzie was inspired to help because of how much fun she had previously, and for the sense of accomplishment that she felt knowing that she was genuinely helping someone.
“It makes me think these people were treated wrongly. Everybody deserves stuff like this 24/7, so if I can give it to them just once, I’ll do my absolute best,” said Mayzie. “And even if they don’t know me, they probably definitely won’t, this just makes me happy.”
Organizations such as Jewishcolorado, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Rocky Mountain Rabbis and Cantors reunited with the Denver Jewish community to aid the call for help from the city to support incoming migrants and their needs.
“I think the important thing is that we have capacity to help and that means we’re responsible to look for opportunities to help. I think that especially in the Jewish tradition, we know what it feels like to be the new people,” said Rabbi Emily Hyatt, Associate Rabbi of Temple Emanuel. “Because we know what it feels like, it requires us to be there when we can for somebody else that’s going through that same experience.”
Since 2022, thousands of migrants have come through Denver seeking shelter and asylum. The city was quick to respond. Denver is considered a sanctuary city for immigrants, but quickly realized that it would need a long-term plan in order to properly sustain the effort. Mayor Michael Hancock declared an emergency in response to the high number of incoming migrants. With new federal guidelines introduced in May 2023, the city is stressed and pushed to the limit. Support provided by various organizations and churches is helping to provide funding, shelter, security, clothing, and food.
“In December, we signed on and a week later they opened this location for donations and drop-offs. Back then the big concern was winter clothes,” said Dan Leshem, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Lori Kalata, the main organizer of the Temple Emanuel donation site, reported that 68 different organizations came to help the cause. About 35 organizations were Jewish organizations and the rest were made up of other groups from the community including churches and schools.
“It was really a remarkable community response who showed up here and helped out the 6000, at the time, migrants who were arriving in Denver. We were able to receive donations of warm winter clothes, coats, boots, and shoes,” Kalata said. “Everybody showed up and helped out,” said Kalata. “Sometimes it feels like we’re so polarized and divided and so othered and this was human beings showing up for other human beings. We had a couple who drove down the day after a brutal snowstorm and they drove down from a mosque in Boulder just to help us out.”
On Monday at Temple Emanuel, about 30 volunteers, from ages five to 80 years old, from different organizations and the temple itself, sorted the incoming donations which will be distributed to those coming through. Many of them at the moment are from Venezuela.
“We have volunteers here, five and six years old, with their parents who are helping, doing meaningful things for migrants. They have been sorting clothes and packing boxes and writing labels for us,” Kalata said. “A five-year-old showed us her writing skills and she knew exactly why she was doing this work. She could tell me this is for the people who just got here who need these clothes.”
Leshem explains that everyone who was helping out felt a great sense of mission.
“This kind of volunteer project is so immediate and the need is so great. For people of faith everywhere, I think feeding the hungry, clothing the under-clothed, and taking care of the stranger, I mean this is the highest thing we’re asked to do by our faith tradition,” Leshem said. “Helping migrants, as I said, it’s like you can’t imagine a more pure, urgent, beautiful thing to do for your fellow human beings.”
Temple Emanuel’s donation site will be accepting goods for six weeks. People who wish to donate can visit Temple Emanuel’s News page for information on what items are needed. For this spring’s donation event, hydration and nutrition are the main focus, but people can also donate hygiene items, diapers, and new underwear. Donations can be brought to Temple Emanuel during their designated drop-off times or donations can be made through their Amazon Wishlist. Those who wish to volunteer can sign up through the donation site’s sign up page. Other opportunities to help are found through the Newcomer’s Fund started by the Rose Community Foundation.