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Vive and asylum seekers 'overwhelmed' by generosity — and pizza

The City of Good Neighbors lived up to its reputation again.

This time, it came with a side order of pizza.

The Jericho Road Community Health Center held a news conference Monday to express a combination of surprise and gratitude for more than $250,000 in donations that came in since last month to assist 100 asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who were welcomed to the agency's Vive Shelter.

Anna Ireland Mongo, Vive’s chief program officer, said she wanted to thank a small army of individuals, businesses and local foundations who helped feed and shelter the refugees.

The International Institute ran a donation drive and brainstormed with Vive on housing capacity, she said. The M&T Foundation pledged a $25,000 grant, and the John R. Oishei Foundation organized donations.

“Catholic Charities provided funding and additional interns to help with initial influx. Canisius College opened up their dorms. Within 24 hours, the American Red Cross helped with emergency cots," Mongo added.

“I honestly was not worried,” she said. “But I was overwhelmed by Buffalo’s extraordinary generosity.”

And while she was thanking some of the region's most well-known businesses and philanthropic institutions, she also gave a shoutout to area Just Pizza restaurants, for "a donation I never would have anticipated that gave my staff a break by allowing us not to cook, but blessed everyone in the shelter with a good old Buffalo meal.”

The arrival of the Congolese refugees — at a rate of 10 a day for 10 days in mid-June — was not expected by Vive. The nonprofit primarily serves as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers who intend to move on to Canada. Mongo estimated $15,000 is required to provide a month of meals for the 100 refugees who began to flood the East Side shelter on June 17.  That’s less than $2 per meal, she noted.

Jericho Road runs a homeless shelter for asylum seekers from all over the world who are passing through Buffalo, providing shelter, care and legal advice to 2,000 people last year, said Dr. Myron Glick, chief medical officer of Jericho Road.

The refugees were fleeing a life of violence and danger in their home country. On Monday, as they continue to adjust to new lives, an International Criminal Court Monday convicted a Congolese rebel commander known as “The Terminator” on 18 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, rape and sexual slavery committed in Congo in 2002-2003. Bosco Ntaganda faces a maximum life sentence.

Glick told of a 31-year-old native of Eritrea who was imprisoned because of his political beliefs. He fled to Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Israel and finally to Brazil where he began the 2,500-mile trek to the southern border of the United States.

“Last August when he crossed the border, he was immediately arrested and placed in a detention center where he was held for nine months," said Glick. "Finally he saw a judge, who granted him asylum, and he was released. He can begin a pathway to life here.”

"From Congo to Brazil, many refugees traveled by foot and bus through jungles, deserts and across rivers. It was a dangerous journey that they undertook,” said Glick. “Some families were separated along the way, and some people died. It took from three to nine months. There are desperate people who are fleeing untenable conditions in their home country.”

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