Kay Robers and Kristine Zaballos on offering aid to migrants
The Community Space free store co-founders Kristine Zaballos and Kay Robers describe their efforts to provide food and household goods to migrants arriving in Whitewater from Nicaragua and Venezuela.
By Nathan Denzin | Here & Now
February 13, 2024 • Southeast Region
You guys have said a few times that you know right away when somebody haven't been here before, if they're new to town. Can you tell me why that is you notice it right away and, yeah, we'll just start with that.
Because they walk in the door and they're like, "What should I do?" 'Cause there's people standing in line for the food. There's people standing in line and they just don't know.
I'd say that we noticed that from the very beginning with any of our visitors because it's not a model that anyone's seen before, so sometimes I've had the privilege of witnessing somebody coming in, you know, maybe having their worst day and coming in and just needing some support, some food, some whatever.
And conversation, for sure, some resources and seeing them slowly relax and realize we're not gonna ask them for any papers. We're just here to share what we have and hopefully make their worst day a little bit better. So we have, of course, the people come back repeatedly get to understand what is, but for people who are here the first time, it's a little hard to explain because really no one's ever seen it before, so, but we like to think that half of what we do is what we share and give away and half of what we do is how we make people feel.
When did you start noticing an uptick in people from Nicaragua or Venezuela here and what is it that kind of, when did you first notice it? What made you notice it?
I think that their demeanor was different than the people that we'd had previously, but before this all happened, we had, across the street at the motel, it was a state program, I think. It was like getting people jobs and then giving 'em place to live and they didn't have anything. They just took to this room and said, "Here you go." And they were across the street and they could easily get here, which was wonderful, but that was the first time that we had, you know, a group of obviously new people and so when the Nicaraguans started to come in, it was just like, "Come on in. We'll be fine." You know, we weren't intimidated by it at all.
We've had Spanish-speaking volunteers on and off throughout, you know, luckily with the proximity to the university. We've had some, particularly faculty members, who help out. We've also had some community members who've gotten involved. It's just sporadic, so sometimes when we have had new people, there's been someone who can really explain from the ground up what we do.
And my favorite thing is if someone comes to me and I can't understand, I can stand up in the middle of the room and say, "Is there anyone here that is bilingual?" And inevitably I'll get a 9-year-old child, which is awesome, you know, and I always say to the child, you know, "Isn't your mother proud of you? Tell her you did a really good job and we're proud of you." And if there's anyone there, they help. You know, they'll come to these people and I think a lot of times if they can see someone that's like them, that kind of puts them at ease. We have a couple people that work, we have, what, four or five Hispanic people that work for us. We have one of the students from the English class that works on Wednesday night and Saturdays because he wants to give back, so they understand what we're doing and they are really very grateful.