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Monthly dinners support restaurant workers affected by October immigration raids

Taco dinners are among lifelines for 25 Buffalo-area restaurant workers who lost their jobs after immigration raids in October.

From 150 to 200 diners paid $10 each for taco dinners Sunday at Pilgrim St. Luke's United Church of Christ at 355 Richmond Ave., where congregants voted in January to become a sanctuary church.

The Rev. Justo Gonzalez noted the church raises about $2,000 from each of the dinners, with all the funds going to the 25 immigrant families affected by the raids. Currently, one suspect faces sentencing in late April and all 25 still face federal court proceedings.

Gonzalez said the monthly fundraisers will continue until the legal dispute is resolved. Pilgrim St. Luke's has donated its kitchen facilities to the cause – dubbed #Buffalo25 – at no cost to the volunteers helping the 25 families.

"They can use our kitchen as long as they need it because our (religious) call is to welcome all," said Gonzalez, who added, "A significant following has developed among our congregation" to help the families, and diners "enjoy a great meal in the process."

The four-hour dinners will be repeated on March 19, April 23, May 21 and June 25, with more dates pending the outcome of legal proceedings, according to Gonzalez.

Carra Stratton, a dinner volunteer, noted patrons enjoy beef, chicken or veggie tacos and a drink. The money raised feeds the workers' needs, from paying the rent to affording cellphones to keep in touch with families in their native countries.

Fran Schwartz and son Matt patronize the dinners as "friends of the church," who  also know of such hardships, with relatives who perished in the Holocaust and others surviving its horrors.

"Coming here makes my whole week better," Fran Schwartz said.

Referring to his Jewish heritage, Matt Schwartz said, "We were once strangers in the land of Egypt." He added that he sees the groundswell of support for the immigrants as "history being made again."

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