Long Beach fund raises $90,000 to support refugee and asylum-seeking children

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- During the early stages of the pandemic, Lola's Mexican Cuisine in Long Beach helped deliver meals to older residents. One year later, they're serving meals to customers outdoors.

After learning Long Beach would be a temporary home to refugee and asylum-seeking children, owner and chef Luis Navarro wanted to offer to prepare meals for the children staying at the Long Beach Convention Center.

"How can we show them some love? You know, get them some hot food," said Navarro. "Show them a little bit of hospitality."

The idea did not come to fruition due to contracts already in place, Navarro said.

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But he shifted gears, saying Lola's and its customers have raised more than $8,000 through its online merchandise store, and will donate it all to a fund set up through the city of Long Beach.

"I hope that these children just get a little bit of that love and warmth," he said. "I hope that they understand that they're important."

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia reflected on the last year.

"We just were looking at numbers today. We've got 95% of seniors vaccinated, 56% of eligible adults vaccinated. Businesses are opening back up safely, the positivity rate is low," said Garcia. "And then folks are welcoming these kids that really need our help."

The priority is to unify children with their families as soon as possible, Garcia said.

"Some of the kids that just arrived last week are already starting to leave the Convention Center, which is really great," he said. "Some people wanted to donate toys and books, other people wanted to give monetary donations directly. Others want to volunteer their time. And so for those folks that want to give direct donations, that's why we established the fund."

The city's nonprofit foundation has raised about $90,000 so far.

"They're going to purchase gift cards, for example. So, as some of the kids exit, they have some money to be able to get more books or more clothes or supplies. Others will be used to support things that are happening inside the center," Garcia told Eyewitness News.

The city is hosting a book and toy drive through May 8, and groups can apply to provide mental health, recreation or faith-based services.

"These are really hard and difficult issues and they're really complex," Garcia said. "But I think we're doing the best we can, and I'm just really, really proud of the community. They're doing really great."

Navarro said Lola's Mexican Cuisine will continue donating 100% of the online store's proceeds through Sunday.

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