While much of the city is still waking up, Ilze Thielmann is up and ready to go. Wheeling her cart of supplies through Port Authority — in preparation for the day’s arrival of asylum seekers.
It’s not a new situation for this veteran volunteer. She’s been assisting with “Team TLC” for three years. The non-profit organization works to provide basic needs to all immigrants. A 4am start has been her morning routine ever since the first bus arrived 6 weeks ago.
“We were all ready to go, but the city was not ready to go," Thielmann remembers. "So that first bus, eight volunteers and I greeted that first bus, on our own. Fed them, got them to shelter, and got them to where they needed to go.”
An estimated 12,000 migrants have been sent here by bus in recent months and more are expected. Mayor Eric Adams calls it a “horrible political stunt.” Thielmann says many come off the bus thirsty, tired, and hungry – and some are in need of emergency medical care.
“I tell all my volunteers, you know, you’ve got to smile. You’ve got to be cheerful. You’ve got to be upbeat and positive,” said Thielmann.
The volunteers provide clothing, food, water, and legal services, going as far as to spend their own money on travel arrangements to reunite families. And when language barriers occur, they lean into the power of a smile.
“Human beings have always found a way to communicate, especially where there’s love," Thielmann explained. "And there’s a lot among these volunteers and these asylum seekers.”
In between bus arrivals, Thielmann is on the phone in an effort to raise funds and donations to keep the team afloat as their credit cards max out. She is grateful for any support.
“I really try to focus on the outpouring of love and energy and kindness that I’m seeing among New Yorkers. I’m very very proud of my city,” said Thielmann.
As needs increase, Thielmann has opened up her own home. She now hosts three asylum seekers and says she feels very connected to the cause.
“I just feel like as a child of an immigrant, who went through that herself, it was just something that I couldn’t…I couldn’t not try to to help,” Thielmann said.
For springing into action and creating a safe space to land in a crisis, Ilze Thielmann is our New Yorker of the Week.
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