ROTTERDAM — Clothing and toys are piled up. Grocery bags are brimming with commodities. Such is the look of Maria Pacheco’s living room as she collects donations for locally housed asylum seekers.
These items, among more, will be dropped off at the Rotterdam Community Center on Thursday and delivered to asylum seekers temporarily lodging in a Super 8 motel on Carmen Road. That weekly process, the 61-year-old said, will continue into the foreseeable future.
It’s coordinated by Pacheco’s group, Allies for Justice. Organizers plan to provide a steady stream of household supplies and support services while pushing back against anger directed at displaced families willingly sent to Rotterdam through the New York City Department of Social Services.
About two buses so far have collectively transported at least 238 asylum seekers to the motel in the last two weeks, including men, pregnant women, senior citizens and children. It’s not clear how long families will be lodged at the motel.
In talks with several Hispanic families, Palcheco, who speaks Spanish fluently, said that families remain fearful of the backlash. One family attempted to travel back to New York City, but didn’t have enough money to take an Uber back.
“I’m concerned that this negative narrative continues and it just becomes like the truth,” said Pacheco. “That’s the opposite of what we want to do.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams in early May announced efforts to send willing migrants elsewhere in the state in order to sustain resources — a policy launched much to the annoyance of local government officials, who have attempted to ward off what has been an influx of asylum seekers with emergency order declarations.
More than 90,000 asylum seekers have entered New York City since late spring following the end of a Trump-era policy that allowed federal agents to reject asylum seekers at the border.
Frustrations over the federal, state, county and local government’s handling of the migrant crisis boiled over at a Rotterdam special meeting recently. Town Supervisor Mollie Collins was criticized for not addressing migrants as “illegals.” One member of the town Planning Board even likened the situation to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when more than 3,000 people died in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.
AFJ organizers Liesha and Bill Sherman don’t care if the new group’s efforts receive backlash as well.
“We are so busy focusing on the positive that we really have no time and we’ve been ignoring anything negative, but I do feel like Rotterdam people need to come around,” Liesha Sherman said.
Both Liesha and Bill Sherman work for the Mohonasen Central School District, as did Pacheco until she retired in 2020. Much of their donations so far have come from teachers.
The first batch of donations were dropped off on Friday. AFJ seeks more donations for shoes, clothing, toiletries, toys, diapers and children’s donations.
“We’re trying to get a structure in place so that we can be helpful over the long run,” said Wendi Enwright, an AFJ organizer. “I think a month from now, everything will calm down and it’ll be much more organized.”
New York City is already footing the bill for health services and meals provided under a contract with mobile medical provider DocGo. A number of area nonprofits, including the YWCA, have struggled to communicate with DocGo over providing potential assistance for migrant services.
AFJ managed to get in contact with onsite security officials. So far, several AFJ volunteers have been granted access to the secluded premises for drop-offs, according to Enwright.
“It’s too much for people to just drive up to the hotel and hand things out and also the staff there are concerned for the safety of the residents,” said Bill Sherman.
Families were originally hesitant to speak with AFJ organizers, but eventually “gained their trust,” according to Sherman. Now, they text back and forth with the help of online translation services.
Although most families speak Spanish, some speak Russian, French Creole and Mandarin Chinese, according to Pacheco. AFJ is trying to assemble a translation team to improve communication between organizers and migrants.
Meanwhile, Mohonasen has put out advertisements for English As A Second Language teachers. Little is yet known on how the migrant wave will impact the upcoming school year.
“Everything I’ve heard from our [school] administration and our teachers is that we are on board to do this, but the state and federal government has to step up and provide funds to Mohonasen in order for us to be successful,” Liesha Sherman said.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.