Beloved Chicago Hot Dog Stand Rallies Local Restaurants to Feed Refugees

Chicago's The Wiener's Circle is joining locals helping create a community to feed, shelter and aid refugees

The Wiener's Circle, a famous Chicago hot dog stand, is feeding migrants bussed to Chicago by Texas gov. i. The Wieners Circle.
Staff at The Wiener's Circle preparing food to feed 60 . Photo: The Wieners Circle

Shortly after Christmas, Ari Levy and the other co-owners of famed Chicago hotdog stand Wiener's Circle made a pact.

They had just seen a tweet from the Texas governor that said he'd be shipping over 1,500 asylum-seeking migrants to the Windy City, which was then experiencing sub-zero temperatures. The business partners were outraged and wanted to help.

"Can anyone tell us where these poor migrants ended up in Chicago? We'd like to feed them," the company wrote on Twitter.

By the first Tuesday night of the year, Levy and his team were feeding over 60 migrants from Venezuela and Colombia hot dogs and burgers at a space owned by a church. It was a welcome change for the refugees from the usual fare of cold sandwiches or no meal at all.

"I just felt a lot of empathy," says Levy, who was accompanied that night by Wiener's Circle staffers. "These are people that were dropped off in frigid weather, in minus wind chill weather, without appropriate clothing.

"No one should be in that situation," he continues. "They thank us profusely in Spanish. They're in a tough spot."

The Wiener's Circle char dog is prepared with green relish and other ingredients. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
The Wiener's Circle char dog. Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty

With a successful first event, Chicago native Levy and his partners vowed to rally other restaurants to provide a warm meal each Tuesday night.

The following Tuesday, catering company Big Delicious Planet fed plates of rice, beans and chicken to another 60 migrants, which is all the space can hold.

The third week, two avid barbequers and their families made meals. Most recently the women of career-developement group The Latinista were serving job advice along with the Central and South American dishes they cooked.

Luisette and Ed Kraal manage the New Neighbors Free Store and they feed 30-90 Asylum seekers once a week
Luisette and Ed Kraal, volunteers with the Refugee Community Connection, feed 30 to 90 asylum seekers once a week. Refugee Community Connection

Levy, 43, plans on repeating this every Tuesday this year, with other Chicago restaurants and families continuing to reach out to help.

"Oh, it's fabulous, it's wonderful," says Nan Warshaw, founder of the all-volunteer Refugee Community Connection, says of the Tuesday night dinners. On another night, RCC volunteers Luisette and Ed Kraal, who manage the New Neighbors Free Store, feed 30 to 90 asylum seekers once a week.

"These people have been living a very meager existence and now they can get some great food, not just institutional food."

Migrants are led from one bus to another bus after arriving from Texas at Union Station on Sept. 9, 2022, in Chicago. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Refugees being unloaded from a bus arriving from Texas in Chicago on Sept. 9. Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty

In late December, Warshaw saw the Wiener's Circle tweet, and connected Levy with the church group whose space is now used to serve the meals.

RCC runs four free "stores" throughout the city, at which refugees can find clothing and other items.

One of the stores is located at the same site where the Wiener's Circle helps out — so the Wiener's Circle also kicked off a clothing drive, since the migrants "were in need of winter clothing, but also they are in need of everything," according to Levy.

Nan Warshaw of Chicago started an all-volunteer group to help migrants in the city
Nan Warshaw at one of the free stores for refugees. Refugee Community Connection

He and staffers collected "piles upon piles" of clothing that they stuffed into six SUVs and drove to an RCC free store.

On the vibrant and busy RCC Facebook page, recent posts by some of the group's 7,000 members include a plea for housing for a young family from Venezuela, an offer to volunteer time at the RCC free stores, people volunteering to take migrants to doctors' appointments and help with apartment applications, and numerous home furnishings, appliances, and all sorts of clothing available for the new arrivals.

"We're assisting dozens and dozens of families and individuals every day," says Warshaw. "It's crazy, but wonderful."

Nan Warshaw of Chicago started an all-volunteer group to help migrants in the city
A migrant from South America in a free store looking for winter clothing. Refugee Community Connection

City officials estimate more than 5,000 migrants, most from Venezuela, have recently arrived in Chicago from Texas and Colorado, reports NBC 5 Chicago. Warshaw says many come in summer clothing and arrive at the free stores in flip flops and shorts amid freezing temperatures.

The refugees have been housed in shelters, schools and, for some, in temporary warming shelters open only during the day. At night, says Warshaw, many go to hospital waiting rooms or police stations seeking shelter.

"The people who are being forced back and forth between these warming centers and these waiting rooms, they're not being fed," she says. "They're the ones most in need of the food."

So a hot meal and the kindness of strangers, she adds, can go a long way.

Warshaw shared a recent message from recent arrival, named Hector. "A thousand blessings," he messaged her. "We are truly grateful to you, God Bless you today and always."

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