I love making lists. Shopping lists. To-do lists. They’re regulars around here.
So is another kind of list: the one that gives all the reasons I can’t do things.
Call it an excuse list or a deficiencies list or an “I’m not good at that” list. Maybe they aren’t all the same thing, but what I’m trying to say is I’m much better at making a list of things I can’t do than one that lists all the things I can do.
Maybe you can relate.
Six months ago, I attended a training hosted by Church World Services-Lancaster about how to become a volunteer with their organization. They support the relocation of refugees in our community, and after all the media attention the crisis received last summer and our trip to Kenya, I was determined to do something besides read blogs and share posts on Facebook.
The training was overwhelming and informative and made me feel alive with purpose and expectation.
But it also revealed in me what I thought I lacked. I don’t live in the city or know the city as well as I could. I don’t speak a foreign language. I don’t have a lot of experience communicating with people from a different culture. I have limited material resources. My own transportation is unreliable and my schedule is unpredictable.
Could I really help refugees?
I left the question unanswered for months. Or maybe I thought my answer was “no.”
Since taking the training I haven’t actually done anything to help refugees in my community. Other than share stories that others have written and advocate for helping refugees at large.
But it’s just not enough.
And I don’t want to forget that this is a real need concerning real people in the same city in which I live.
I want the words I say about what I believe to be backed by action.
Taking actual action is hard, though. At least it is for me. I get caught up in the everyday life stuff and forget about other stuff. I have limited emotional and creative energy each day, and sometimes I’m at the end of both before lunch time.
But maybe those are just excuses, too.
So, this week, I had coffee with a woman who works for CWS. I told her everything about why I want to help refugees and why I sometimes think I can’t and all the factors that led to me even caring in the first place. (Can we just pause to celebrate the fact that I met a stranger for coffee at a place I’d never been to? Big steps for this introvert.)
She was so encouraging, and because she knows what the needs are and how people can help, she was able to give me some options.
And when I started to list all the reasons I didn’t think I could help, she disagreed with my reasoning and handed me practical, tangible ways to be involved in welcoming refugees to Lancaster. (Side note: Recently our city welcomed 37 new refugees in one week, and for the current year, CWS is expecting almost 500 refugees into our community.)
I know there are a lot of strong feelings about helping refugees and bringing them into our country. I urge you to do the research and not just listen to rhetoric intended to elicit an emotional (and often fearful) response. Not everyone has to help welcome refugees, but if you want to and don’t know where to start, let me help you start somewhere. (Because I need to start somewhere, too.)
One of the best ways to help refugees is to help organizations like CWS that are already helping refugees. Another one is Carry the Future, which provides baby carriers to families with young children as they arrive in Greece. There are others you can look up on the Internet, too.
If you’re local to places where refugees are resettling, find out who’s helping and what they need.
Because of the number of recent refugees, the CWS-Lancaster supply of household goods has dwindled. Here’s what they need:
Hygiene items (new only):
- Deodorant (male and female)
- Razors & shaving cream
- Sanitary pads
- Band-aids/First Aid
- Bath towel
- Wash cloth
Cleaning items (new only):
- Dish soap
- Dish rack
- Trash bags
- Kitchen trashcan
- Floor cleaner
- Toilet paper
- Toilet brush
- Shower curtain and rings
- Laundry detergent
- All-purpose cleaning spray
Kitchen items (in good repair):
- Dinner plates
- Cereal bowls
- Serving bowls
- Can opener
- Rice cooker
- Pots & pans SET
- Cooking utensils
- Cutting board
- Baking dish
- Tea kettle
- Coffee pot
Furniture (in good repair):
- Small dresser
- Sofa (32 inches on shortest width dimension)
- Upholstered living room chairs
- Kitchen table
- Kitchen chairs
- Coffee table
- End table
- Bookshelves (small only)
- Snow shovel
- Lawn mower
- Electric space heaters
- Car seat (new only)
- Pack & play or crib
- Baby wipes
- Baby gates
- Toddler bed rails
- Winter coats, jackets, snow pants
- Winter hats, gloves
Donations are accepted by appointment only and CWS reserves the right to not accept certain things. If in doubt, call or inquire. The congregational resource developer can be contacted at 717-358-9278.
For some guidance on the quality of donations, especially gently used stuff, read this blog post by Kristen Welch: Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor.
CWS also needs welcome kits. For anywhere from $30-$50 you can put together a toiletry kit, cleaning kit, home necessity kit, or school kit, or donate the monetary value to provide one of these kits. Information about those can be obtained at the above phone number also. I have a flier listing those needs as well, so you can contact me, too, if you’re interested in that option.
To make a long story short, the answer to the question, “Can you help welcome refugees?” is “Yes.”
Refugees come from a variety of countries and backgrounds and situations with almost nothing of their own. Because their situation is not the same as the one where we, Americans, threaten to move to Canada because we don’t like the next president. It’s much more serious than that. It’s a matter of life and death, often an immediate action, not a planned move. And they’re resettling in countries with a language and culture different from their own. Having these items helps provide a fresh start and takes away one of the burdens of settling in to a new place.
Yes, you can help welcome refugees. And so can I.