WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Kate O’Reilly has never been to Worthington, but after reading a story from The Washington Post last week about the immigration issues there and the hate-filled words of a school bus driver, she felt called to serve the community.
O’Reilly created a GoFundMe page last week dubbed The Worthington Project. Her request was simple. She wanted to raise $5,000 to aid the immigrant children — the unaccompanied minors who have landed in the southern Minnesota town.
In five days, she reached her goal. In six days, 135 donors had pledged a combined $5,330. By the end of the seventh day — and after connecting with several individuals in Worthington — she decided to increase the goal.
“I was raised to help people who have less than me,” said the Minneapolis mother of two, her optimism renewed by the generosity of others with the same beliefs.
The money continues to come in, and O’Reilly said late Monday she is “totally floored” by the response.
“I know I have a generous group of people surrounding me and I know I have a wide network in the industry I work in,” said O’Reilly, a content strategy business owner and lifelong Minneapolis resident. “You lower the barrier of entry for people to be good and they will show up to do good, and they did.”
By Tuesday, she had increased the goal on the GoFundMe page to $8,000, but she’s hoping for $10,000, and is talking about creating a 501(c)3 organization so that people can make a tax-deductible contribution. After connecting with the Rev. Jim Callahan at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and an EL teacher at Worthington’s Middle School, she’s formulating a plan for how the initial funds might do the most good.
“I don’t know any of the beneficiaries yet, but I know these kids deserve to have what they’ve dreamt of,” O’Reilly said. “As long as they’re here, they need safety, they need to not be hungry. I think they’ve dreamt of so much more here and at least while they’re here, we can do better for these kids.
“These are children and there’s nothing to blame on them — there’s not one thing to put on their back,” O’Reilly said through tears.
Thus far, she has pinpointed needs for food, school supplies, gas cards and cold-weather clothing.
“I’m trying to figure out how to do a cold-weather clothing drive,” O’Reilly said, realizing buying winter coats could eat up the funds quickly. “Everyone has a coat or boots laying around, and they’d love to see someone use them.”
That O’Reilly took steps to help children in a community hours from the Twin Cities — in a town she’s never visited — impressed many in the community who heard about her effort.
At St. Mary’s, Callahan said Tuesday that the response — not just from O’Reilly — has been unbelievable. He’s received emails from people all across the United States — from Catholics and non-Catholics alike — who voiced support for the church’s work.
“I think some people, when they read it, said it was a terrible article,” Callahan said. “Terrible because you didn’t know this was actually going on in our community. Terrible because you think, if it is, how am I going to respond to it? And terrible because they don’t believe it.
“Talking with the immigrant communities, they say we live with this every day. Sometimes it’s more blatant than others.”
If the church is the recipient of some of the funds raised through O’Reilly’s GoFundMe site, he said school supplies and food would help, particularly for the families that have taken in unaccompanied children.
“Families are doing the best they can, but sometimes by the end of the month they’re really suffering with not enough food,” Callahan said.
The children who are coming here to stay with family — Callahan said if they’re from the same village, they consider each other to be family — come at a cost. The older ones who can work do what they can to help out.
One such example, said Callahan, is a 17-year-old who arrived in Worthington four months ago. He has a full-time job at JBS on the overnight shift, and when he leaves work in the morning, he gets cleaned up to go to high school. After school, he fits in about two hours of school work and some sleep, and starts the cycle all over again. Whatever he earns at his job helps support the family he’s staying with.
It’s those children O’Reilly wants to help.
The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota was also contacted by O’Reilly. The center employs two attorneys in Worthington to provide a wide range of legal services to immigrants in Minnesota. If the center receives some of the funds, Executive Director Veena Iyer said the dollars would help fund the center’s work to represent individuals, assist Dreamers in renewing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, help lawful permanent refugees get citizenship and help unaccompanied children obtain legal status here.
“We are so appreciative of Kate and others like her who have seen stories about the treatment of immigrants and refugees across the country, and particularly in Worthington, and are inspired to give and encourage their networks to give,” Iyer said Monday.
O’Reilly wants to make an in-person delivery of the funds she’s collected through The Worthington Project within the next few weeks. She’s also hoping to visit an EL classroom in the school, and meet with Callahan.
“There’s an authenticity to being there — to this whole campaign — and that’s been my plan all along,” O’Reilly said.