SIDNEY — There was a meeting of cultures Tuesday night when the newest residents of Sidney were welcomed during a dinner at the Sidney Apostolic Temple.
Thirty-four families from Puerto Rico have moved to Sidney from their hurricane-ravaged country for a new start. Norcold, of Sidney, partnered with a recruiting and placement agency to bring recruits to Sidney and Shelby County.
“I am super, super excited to see everyone come out tonight,” said Raven Loaiza, who organized the event. “This is not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about everyone in the community.
“I’m so excited that the community of Sidney and the county of Shelby have stepped up to give back,” she said.
As Loaiza paused, Sidney Apostolic Temple pastor and Spanish minister Jose Luis translated her comments into Spanish. The bilingual exchange continued throughout the evening.
Loaiza said many of the Puerto Ricans arrived in Sidney with just the suitcases they were carrying. A call for assistance was put out throughout the community for donations to furnish their new homes.
“My email box is full,” said Loaiza. “Both of my phones are ringing up with people asking ‘How can I help out?’ … ‘I have things to donate’ … to ‘Can I help move?’ We now have a ‘muscle team’ who is collecting the donations and delivering them to everyone.
“It’s exciting to see how people can help,” she said. “Even if they have no donations, they ask how they can help.”
Loaiza related the story of one delivery to a family. The girl started crying and said she was so thankful for the donations.
“She said she had gotten more things in one month in Ohio than she had in four years in Puerto Rico,” said Loaiza.
Luis told those gathered for the welcome that he knew some of the families who recently moved to Sidney. He invited them all to a Spanish church service, which is held weekly at 1 p.m. on Sundays at the Sidney Apostolic Temple.
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart welcomed the new residents to Shelby County.
“I’m pleased for you to be here,” said Lenhart. “I want you to be safe while you’re here. We want to reach out to you in any way we can.”
Lenhart also told them once they got settled and are looking for a pet, he’s the man to contact.
“I operate the animal shelter,” said Lenhart. “If you get to a point where you’re settled in and want a cat or a dog or three, I’m you’re guy.”
Sidney Police Chief Will Balling thanked them for coming to the dinner.
“We want to form a partnership with you,” said Balling. “We can grow together as we learn about your culture and you see what Sidney has to offer.”
Balling invited them to tour the police department and said he and his officers will answer any questions they might have.
Sidney City Council members Steve Wagner, Ed Hamaker and Joe Ratermann, along with Mayor Mike Barhorst, welcomed them all to Sidney. Sidney Deputy Fire Chief Cameron Haller represented the fire department at the dinner. Shelby County Commissioners Tony Bornhorst and Julie Ehemann spoke to the new residents.
Tiffany Sprague, of New Bremen, who works at Safeway Packaging, said she wanted to welcome her fellow Puerto Ricans to Ohio.
“I’m a terrible Puerto Rican because I can’t speak Spanish,” she said. “But your situation is close to my heart.”
Richard, who has been in Sidney for two months, said he was “shocked at how nice it is” in Ohio. He hopes to make Sidney his permanent home.
Brian Melendez has been in Sidney for two months and is employed at Mama Rosa’s. He said his home in Puerto Rico “was not destroyed but was affected.”
He said he decided to come to Sidney to change his life and for the chance of employment. He met his future roommate when at the airport.
“He’s a very awesome person,” said Melendez.
While he has to walk everywhere he wants to go, Melendez is on a mission.
“I’m saving for a car,” he said. “That’s my main mission.”
Representatives of Samaritan Works, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, FISH, Holy Angels Church, the Women’s Center, Edison State Community College, Sidney City Schools and Sidney-Shelby County YMCA were also present at the meeting.
“Everything here tonight cost us zero dollars,” said Loaiza. “That’s how awesome this community is.”
Assisting with the dinner were Holy Angels Soup Kitchen, Holy Angels Outreach Committee, Sidney Apostolic Temple, The Spot Restaurant, The Bridge Restaurant and community volunteers.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.