Migrant mothers and their kids, facing challenges alone, look to nonprofits for help

How organizations are providing food, shelter and clothing to asylum-seeker families.

A migrant mother and her child pick through baby clothes at Little Shop of Kindness on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

A migrant mother and her child pick through baby clothes at Little Shop of Kindness on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. (Image by Angelique Molina-Mangaroo)

Migrants arriving pregnant or with children are among the more than 100,000 asylum-seekers who have come to New York City in search of a safe and prosperous life. However, many are finding it just as challenging to live here as well. 

With a flood of asylum-seekers overwhelming city services when they arrive, nonprofits have stepped up to offer their help and particularly to migrant mothers and their children, providing food, shelter and clothing. Luisa Sandoval, a case manager at Catholic Charities Community Services, said that migrant mothers face many different challenges at once.

“I will say that most of them are struggling with childcare because they don’t have a family support system. In most of their countries, their mothers and their aunts take care of the children. But here they don’t have that support and childcare here is expensive and they cannot afford that,” Sandoval told NYN Media. “They cannot work because they cannot leave children alone in the shelter … they cannot do anything to get some income.”

Solanch Humanan, a migrant mom, described the difficulty she was experiencing from lack of work. “I feel a bit stressed and worried because I don’t have a job,” the 20-year-old mother from Peru said in her native Spanish. “One challenge is the lack of food. At the shelter I receive food, but sometimes I cannot get any food, maybe because I am late. Because anything can happen, and I cannot find food in the shelter. So I have to seek food around and it’s hard.”

Humanan had come to the U.S. with her husband and two-year-old daughter, Hailey, escaping violence they were subjected to in Peru. However, her husband faced deportation and was sent back, leaving Humanan forced to take on the responsibility of caring for her child with little or no help. Mother and daughter arrived in New York with only the clothes on their backs, Humanan said. 

Catholic Charities provides migrants like Humanan with information they need on how to apply for asylum and work permits, as well as a reduced price MetroCard. “Also sometimes they just need to talk,’ said Sandoval. “They come here and they say what they are feeling and then they feel better because they were able to talk about their feelings and emotions.” 

Another nonprofit, Little Shop of Kindness, operated by Team TLC NYC and located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has provided migrant mothers with pregnancy and postpartum clothing, feminine hygiene products, diapers for their children, strollers and car seats, among other needed-items. Prior to officially starting in 2022, the nonprofit’s organizers had gone to work with asylum-seekers arriving by bus from the southern border at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. 

“The whole idea grew out of the distribution of clothing at Port Authority,” said Ilze Thielmann, director of Team TLC NYC. “We tried to do it with the greatest degree of empathy and dignity for these folks.”

“If there is a mother who is pregnant, we make sure that we tell her that she can come back and receive baby clothing and we put her on the list to get an infant stroller and to get carriers, Thielmann explained. The organization also makes sure that the mothers are receiving proper medical care. “If she's not getting medical care we make sure that we direct her to one of our partners, to Fidelis Care, (which) provides health insurance but also guides people where they can go for care in the hospital, and then doctors and clinics,” Thielmann told NYN. 

Nonprofits are also providing migrants with asylum support services, including how to seek Temporary Protected Status. “Every Sunday we have a legal clinic. We have lawyers give them information, if they have any questions, they complete TPS,” said Father Fabian Arias, pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Midtown Manhattan.

“The impact has been a beautiful experience,” Arias said about the work with migrants. “They are happy when they arrive here in the city. But we are so happy to receive them, to share the food, the clothes, everything possible. We are brothers and sisters, we need to share.”