Easter egg hunt at new North Austin Center to be the first of many events for West Side church

Sunday’s egg hunt was the first major event held by Grace and Peace Church at the 150,000-square-foot center, which opened in February. Around 800 people attended.

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Children pick up eggs with candy inside during an Easter egg hunt at the North Austin Center at 1841 N. Laramie Ave in North Austin, Sunday, April 9, 2023. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Dressed in their Sunday best, the kids stood at the starting line each holding a brown paper bag — their allotted limit for the Easter egg hunt at the newly-opened North Austin Center sports facility.

As the announcer said “go,” the children scrambled to grab as many plastic eggs as they could off the artificial turf.

One child, with his bag already full, balanced another egg precariously on top.

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Children pick up eggs with candy inside during an Easter egg hunt at the North Austin Center at 1841 N. Laramie Ave in North Austin, Sunday, April 9, 2023. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Sunday’s egg hunt was the first major event held by Grace and Peace Church at the 150,000 square-foot center, which opened in February at 1841 N. Laramie Ave. Around 800 people attended the egg hunt.

It’s going to be the first of many events held here, according to the Rev. John Zayas.

“Having a facility like this for our community is huge,” said Zayas, senior pastor at the church. Grace and Peace Church is adjacent to the sports complex and hosts sports and after-school programs there.

Developers broke ground on the $35 million site in the summer of 2021, building it with funding from the Chicago Fire Foundation and $3.5 million from the state.

At the egg hunt, children danced as a DJ blasted the “Cha Cha Slide.” Children were separated into age groups, each hunting for eggs on separate soccer fields at the complex. In the youngest group, ages 0 to 3, parents guided their toddlers to the eggs and encouraged them to grab them.

In the older groups, ages 4 to 8 and ages 9 to 12, the children had their own strategies for snatching the candy-filled eggs. Some kids made a beeline for the densest concentration of eggs in center field — a re-creation of the logo of DoorDash, the food delivery app company that sponsored the event.

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A child proudly holds up his bag full of eggs during an Easter egg hunt at the North Austin Center at 1841 N. Laramie Ave in North Austin, Sunday, April 9, 2023. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

There was also a face-painting stall and a luau-inspired backdrop for photos. When the egg hunt concluded, guests were directed to a hall where a brunch of tacos, rice and beans was catered by Taqueria La Paz.

Several migrant families took part in the egg hunt. Zayas said his church helped take in the families as they were bused in from other states after emigrating from Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

“We clothed them, fed them, showered them,” Zayas said.

The church helped between 1,000 and 2,000 migrants, housing some of them for as many as four months, he said. Chicago’s emergency management office then placed the migrants in hotels, he said. About 150 of those migrants still come back for weekly services, Zayas said.

“They see this as a safe place,” he said. His church is also a hub to provide those families social services, medical checkups and legal help.

Zayas said he is excited about how his church can use the sports complex in the future, but it was still unclear about what kind of events the church will hold.

He said he will be consulting his congregation for how to use the space. For now, Zayas said the facility will help them expand their back-to-school and Christmas events.

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Children hold on to their bags full of eggs during an Easter egg hunt at the North Austin Center at 1841 N. Laramie Ave in North Austin, Sunday, April 9, 2023. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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