Supporting New Immigrants in Brentwood
When a large influx of immigrants, fleeing a civil war in El Salvador transformed the hamlet of Brentwood in the 1980s, the members of Christ Episcopal Church knew they had to help make the newcomers welcome.
More than thirty years have passed, and the Salvadoran community has grown strong in western Suffolk County, but ministry to recent Spanish speaking immigrants remains essential to the Rev. Alejandra Trillos and her congregation. All of the worship services at the church are held in English and Spanish. Songs are sung in both languages. Only the Sunday School proceeds in a single language, because all of the children speak English.
Thanks to a grant from Episcopal Ministries of Long Island, the church, which has about 50 members, is often a hive of activity, running a thrift shop which provides not only low-priced clothing, but opportunities for local middle and high school students to fulfill their community service requirements.
“They are helping us, but they are also learning organizational skills and customer service skills in an organization that is healthy and loving and empowering,” Trillos says.
Christ Church also operates a food pantry, open one day every other week that provides food for about 40 families. “We have become like a hub,” Trillos says. “My personal goal has been to create partnerships with organizations that have been doing this kind of work for many years.”
Trillos herself is an immigrant, a native of Colombia who studied at Union Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2012. She knows firsthand how challenging adapting to a new culture and new bureaucracies can be. “We have developed educational talks throughout the year,” she says. “We call in different navigators to help people learn how to do things. To help them learn about health care, we bring in people who are health insurance representatives.”
Christ Church also works to clarify some of the misinformation about immigration issues that spreads among newly arrived immigrants.
“When people are working 14 hours a day,” Trillos says, “it is difficult to keep up with things.”