South Florida

Local charity helping newly arrived Venezuelans reopens its doors in Miami

The mayor of the City of Doral, Juan Carlos Bermudez, poses for a photo with the team of volunteers from Raíces Venezolanas, a local charity that supports newly arrived Venezuelan immigrants.
The mayor of the City of Doral, Juan Carlos Bermudez, poses for a photo with the team of volunteers from Raíces Venezolanas, a local charity that supports newly arrived Venezuelan immigrants.

In July, Angelina Estrada, a Venezuelan journalist from Maracaibo, found herself crossing the Rio Grande with her 2-year-old son, Martín, in tow. The goal was to make it to the U.S. from the Mexico border and then, eventually, to travel to South Florida.

Just a bit over two months later — and after having navigated a short stay in a detention center in McAllen, Texas — Estrada was in Miami. Again with Martín in tow, she spent a recent Friday afternoon browsing through donated goods at a storage unit tucked to the west of Miami’s international airport.

“I came above all to get a car seat for my kid, because the one I’m using now is borrowed. They also offered me some clothes because when I crossed the river, I had to leave the bag I was carrying behind. I lost everything. Here, they gave me some stuff we need and, trust me, it’s well-received,” she said. “You get here and you have to start from zero, with nothing at all.”

The organization helping her make a new start is called Raíces Venezolanas, or Venezuelan Roots. Founded in 2016 by human rights activist and Venezuelan immigrant Patricia Andrade, Raíces gives donated household goods such as furniture, clothing, toys, blankets and plates to newly arrived Venezuelans in need.

The location Estrada was browsing through — she eventually left with two big bags of goods, and a little bicycle for her son — opened the day of her visit. Raíces had just moved there from a self-storage facility across the street from El Arepazo, in Doral, to take advantage of bigger facilities. The move took two months.

“Everyone kept telling us, ‘When will you open?’ ‘When will you open?’ It’s just that it’s very hard to put something like this together,” said Andrade. “And now, I’m seeing there’s a bigger need for help in this community than ever before. People come and leave with as many things as possible.”

Raíces leases 10 different units in its new storage facility. There’s one for kitchen items, filled with rice cookers, pots, pans, blenders and coffee machines (“Venezuelans like to drink lots of coffee,” noted Andrade). There’s one just for sheets, another for stuffed animals and board games. According to Andrade, 90% of the objects are used, and 95% of them are donations from members of the Venezuelan community already established in South Florida.

As Andrade explained, visits to Raíces by folks like Estrada, who were once part of an educated middle class in Venezuela but have come to Florida via the U.S.-Mexico border, are getting more and more common.

“Now I’m noticing that more and more people are starting to come into the country by crossing the border. I listen to their stories, and I’m floored,” she said. “Just thinking about what drives mothers to take that sort of risk, it’s heartbreaking.”

On hand at Raíces’ reopening was Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez. His city is home to one of Florida’s largest Venezuelan immigrant communities.

“I think this is a wonderful example of generosity coming from our community. It’s important because people know that we have to help the people in Venezuela, but we also understand that there’s many Venezuelans arriving here with nothing. [Raíces] is really a labor of love, and it’s helping people who deserve the support.”

He added: “All of us that have come over, like I did when I was very young, at just 3 years of age with my parents who had to leave Cuba, we all understand what it is like to be helped.”

Although Raices’ volunteers were happy to be working in a bigger, more convenient space, the charity’s move and reopening wasn’t an entirely celebratory affair. After all, if Raíces is expanding, that’s because the need felt by newly arrived Venezuelans is growing as well.

“Helping out means the problem continues to exist,” said Andrade.

In addition to supporting new arrivals from Venezuela, Raíces is also funneling some donated goods, like bottled water and canned food, to relief efforts for those affected by hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

Anyone looking to support can see how they can help by reaching out to Andrade through her organization’s website.

Lautaro Grinspan is a bilingual reporter at the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. He is also a Report for America corps member. Lautaro Grinspan es un periodista bilingüe de el Nuevo Herald y del Miami Herald, así como miembro de Report for America.