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Butterflies, Cartoons And Books Welcome Migrant Children To Long Beach

At the El Barretal shelter in Matamoros, Tijuana, Ruth Reyes, 5, shows her mother a new doll she was given.
(Peggy Peattie
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Last week, the city of Long Beach welcomed nearly 100 migrant children to the Long Beach Convention Center. The effort is part of an operation to provide temporary housing until the children — who were unaccompanied at the U.S.-Mexico border – can be reunited with their families or placed with a sponsor.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia says when he got the call from the White House asking if the city would host a temporary shelter, he immediately said yes.

“The history of being a welcoming city is a big part of it,” he said. “We have the right facilities, we know how to work with partners and create an environment that is welcoming and safe, and I think that’s part of what we’ve done.”

When transforming the facility, which can accommodate up to 1,000 children at a time, the focus was on making it not only functional, but child-friendly, too.

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“We added butterflies on the wall, and we left stuffed animals on the beds, and we added books,” he said. “We made sure there was a lot of color, and we put plants all across the convention center on the floor. A lot of recreational activities, a lot of games, and big screen TVs playing cartoons.”

In addition to toys and games, children at the facility will have access to COVID-19 testing through a partnership between the city and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The goal of officials is to get the children connected to loved ones as soon as possible.

“This is not an ideal situation,” Garcia said. “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have these types of shelters, these kids would be with their families. We want to get them feeling safe, comfortable and then reunited with their family.”

On average, the children are expected to stay in the facility anywhere from seven to 10 days.

The city of Long Beach is also hosting a book drive to help make sure the children have reading material. The following public libraries will accept donated books from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday:

  • Billie Jean King Main Library, 200 W. Broadway
  • Bay Shore Library, 195 Bay Shore Ave.
  • Bret Harte, 1595 W. Willow St.
  • Los Altos, 5614 Britton Dr.
  • Mark Twain, 1401 E. Anaheim St.
  • Michelle Obama, 5870 Atlantic Ave.

Officials expect more children to arrive this week.

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