Stories of Change

Celine and Venezuelan migrants at the Hunger Walkathon West (Oak Park Area) in Illinois

From 3,000 Miles to a Three-Mile CROP Hunger Walk

About two years ago, Celine Woznica, who had spent 40 years of her life working in public health, began to have an inescapable feeling that she needed to support the migrants arriving at the border. As someone who had lived in Mexico for six years and was fluent in Spanish, she considered leaving Chicago to apply her skills and knowledge where it was most needed. Before she even got to the border, however, “the border came to Chicago.”

Due to the politically motivated bussing of migrants from Texas, individuals and families primarily from Venezuela began arriving in Celine’s hometown with nowhere to go. With the help of her pastor, Celine arranged for the migrants who had been living at a local police station to take showers at a nearby closed rectory. As the Migrant Ministry soon outgrew the rectory, a closed Catholic school building became available and services were moved there.

Along with many other generous volunteers, the Migrant Ministry turned the school into a hub of hope. Each classroom was converted into a free store where new arrivals could come and grab anything they needed from toiletries to coats to blankets and more. Beyond these basic supplies, Migrant Ministry provides free ESL classes, meals and access to social and health services.

As the newcomers were able to get back on their feet, they became volunteers themselves and began supporting the Migrant Ministry in its efforts to care for Chicago’s newest neighbors. Celine got to know these new volunteers and, as she listened to their harrowing stories, wondered if they had received support from another organization she was involved with: Church World Service.

Celine explained that her parish, Ascension and St. Edmund, has participated in CROP Hunger Walks for many years, and this year, Migrant Ministries was selected as one of the local organizations that would be given a portion of the funds raised through the walk. Realizing that CWS was one of the international organizations that supported her Venezuelan partners, she asked them, “Would you like to walk with us?”

When the CROP Hunger Walk day finally came, Celine didn’t expect too many of the Venezuelans to show up. “It costs them to get to Oak Park because they have to take public transportation,” she explained. But to her surprise, 18 Venezuelan men, women and children all showed up and proudly displayed the Venezuelan flag on their faces and backs as they carried signs that said, “Thank you CWS for feeding migrants on their way north.” Not only did they walk with pride, but after the long journey to get to where they are now, the Venezuelans walked with ease. “The walk was three miles but they’ve already walked 3,000 miles,” Celine said.

For the migrants, helping others is part of who they are. “They’re very hard-working, and they’re very kind to each other. Especially because of their journey through the Darien Gap, they realize that we can’t make it unless we help each other. I really feel that they are a gift to our community,” Celine stated.

The participation of the migrants that day and the work done by Migrant Ministries is a display of what the CWS community is all about: walking alongside one another and extending a helping hand whenever and wherever it is needed.

CROP Hunger Walks are community-based fundraising events held in cities and towns across the United States, created to support the global mission of CWS and local hunger-fighting efforts in more than 500 communities nationwide.

To learn more about how you can get involved in your local CROP Hunger Walk, click here.