Working Together as a Community
As a volunteer with Gathering Humanity, an organization that works with the 4 resettlement agencies in the Phoenix area to set up refugee apartments I've seen how many people working together can do so much.
Gathering Humanity has a warehouse where it stores donations of household items from the community. The resettlement agencies will let us know about families coming in and then the volunteers get to work.
One day at the end of a setup I looked around and was overwhelmed by what I saw. That day I wrote this post on facebook:
Someone donates a string of lights. Someone grocery shops and donates groceries. Someone cooks a meal. Someone creates a set of pictures. Someone sews a couple of quilts. Someone else ties them. Then others donate pillows, a cute little lamp, an aqua alarm clock, a Disney Elsa in her blue dress, a dresser, beds and sheets. It all sits in a warehouse sometimes for a day, sometimes for a couple of months.
Then notice of a refugee family comes in. Someone starts gathering things in the warehouse. Someone loads the truck. Someone gathers a few more things and loads it in cars. Many not aware what everyone else has done. Some worker at the apartment, in the past, paints a couple of walls. Then someone else unloads the items into 2 apartments for a family of 9 and starts pulling things out of the boxes and setting them up.
It always amazes me when so many have participated in an apartment setup, not knowing how donated items will go together in the end, not knowing what the apartment will look like before getting there, and having it come together looking like this for 2 little Congolese refugee girls. Literally hundreds of people have been a part of helping this one family.
Working Together As A Community
This is what I see in Arizona. Volunteers, advocates, caseworkers, mentors, teachers, students - all working together to support and empower our refugee friends. As a TSOS Community Program Coordinator, I hope to share many more stories about this beautiful community. Read below as I begin to share.
Large Food Boxes for Newcomer Families
Sarah Webb, Christy Bishop from our TSOS Arizona Team, and Sarah Fisk (one of the co-founders of Yapay Bolivia, an organization that helps impoverished women and children who live in Bolivia) raised money and food donations for 83 large food boxes with fresh produce for the Valencia Newcomer School families to have food over the winter break.
From the funds raised, they also donated around $500 for small-sized masks for the kids. We appreciate the many people who donated food and money to the project and helped the families in need.
Many Groups Working Together
With so many newly arriving refugees in the past 6 months, Gathering Humanity has not had the room to store much furniture nor does it have the ability to deliver all the items. The founders let the resettlement agencies know that they would need to provide most of that now and that Gathering Humanity would provide the smaller household items. The small items are easier to store and transport, but end up being the greater expense of an apartment setup so they felt it would more effectively help the families to supply those items.
Unfortunately, with supply issues, the resettlement agencies were having a difficult time getting all the furniture needed. Inexpensive furniture became hard to find and then was not in stock. For example, one agency ordered about 12 mattresses from Amazon and only 3 came in.
“There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”
Many organizations have been doing what they could to figure out how to solve this dilemma. Several Christian churches, a Muslim group, and others have at different times been able to store, provide, and/or deliver some of the furniture. While not all families are getting the furniture donated from non-resettlement agency groups it has been interesting to see one group after another opening up space, wallets, and hearts to work together as a community to make it happen when possible.
Third Graders Organize a Drive at Their School
The volunteers at TSOS have a book club. Last month, our book selection was "When Stars Are Scattered". Victoria Jamieson as told by Omar Mohamed, the founder of Refugee Strong, writes the book in graphic novel style, but the words and pictures taught me meaningful things I would not have guessed. It describes the experiences of a boy, Omar, and his brother, who live in a refugee camp. When Omar hears about going to school in the camp, education opens up a whole new world of hope for him and changes his life.
Children also pull together in our Arizona community. The week after my book club, I was thrilled to read an email to Gathering Humanity from a third-grade teacher asking for a tour for some of her students. The book inspired a small group in her class when they read it.
After reading that the refugees used sticks to clean their teeth when they didn’t have toothbrushes, the 4 students decided to get toothbrushes to donate to refugees. But they didn't stop with their own pockets. They presented their idea to each of the classes in school and collected 207 toothbrushes, 148 toothpaste tubes as well as other things. On a Saturday morning, several of them brought the donation, and I led them on a tour as we discussed the book. Children, you too, can make a difference.
Come Be a Part of This Community
We want and need each of you. It's ok if you don't have a lot of time. It's ok if you don't have much money. You don't need to have special skills. There is something everyone can do.
Just as citizens in Europe and the U.K. have heroically supported displaced Ukrainians by opening up their homes or securing other housing, assisting with school enrollments, employment needs, and language learning, Americans now have the opportunity via the Welcome.us Sponsor Circles program to directly help newly arrived Ukrainians. The United States has committed to welcoming 100,000 Ukrainians temporarily for a period of two-years and the ability to apply for employment authorization in the U.S. as long as they have a U.S.-based sponsor to petition for them.
Tucson, and other cities, do so much more when they connect with charities such as Catholic Community Services’ Casa Alitas program. Everywhere you look you can see artwork that brightens the place and further welcomes people. And economically it helps both the city and its citizens.
Refugee work takes patience sometimes. Arizona hung on and had a successful World Refugee Day and looks forward to other changes.