Locals, volunteers lend a helping hand to asylum seekers

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - As Gretchen Lokey, the site coordinator for "The Inn Project," shows us around their shelter in the basement of an undisclosed church in Tucson, the mood is positive.

Asylum seekers and their children are relaxing, chatting, and happy. The kids are playing and smiling.

"They come down here and they don't know what to expect," said Clare Cox, a volunteer. "But they are so happy to be greeted by smiling, welcoming people who are happy to have them here."

"The Inn Project," run mostly by volunteers, has been helping asylum seeking families reconnect with their loved ones from across the country since they began working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in December 2016.

Once the families have been granted status to stay in the country, while they await their asylum status court hearing, many end up here for anywhere between 9-72 hours before stepping on to a bus at the Tucson bus station to reconnect with loved ones.

"These people that we work with everyday are amazing people who have a lot to give," said Lokey. "There is a lot we can learn from them."

"We've had people break down and cry," said Cox. "Because they're so relieved that their struggle, this part of their struggle is over."

There is a food, clothing, toys, all provided by the Tucson community. Volunteers come from across the city, including from the University of Arizona.

"It has been really powerful to see how it has transformed the students," said Rev. Hannah Bonner, who is the director of Fronterra Wesley, a group that connects students and faith driven volunteer opportunities. "They are always so moved by the kindness and spirit of those who make their way through the shelter."

On average 300 asylum seekers a month make their way through the facility, but sometimes as many as 600 are helped every month.

So far in 2018, "The Inn Project" has helped more than 2400 people find their families.

They come from all over central and South America, and from Tucson they will head across the country by bus to Florida, Texas, even Vermont.

Most stay less than 24 hours, but both sides make memories that last a lifetime.

"I think a lot of people who volunteer and get involved with this work think 'I'm giving I'm giving that's why I'm doing this is to give,'" said Lokey. "But in the end you end up receiving so much."

For more information on how you can donate and volunteer, click here.

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